6 die from brain-eating amoeba in lakes

Despite its mellifluous moniker, Naegleria fowleri (nuh-GLEER-ee-uh FOWL'-erh-eye) is an unfriendly microscopic critter. It eats human brains. From APL
200709281611 It sounds like science fiction but it's true: A killer amoeba living in lakes enters the body through the nose and attacks the brain where it feeds until you die.

Even though encounters with the microscopic bug are extraordinarily rare, it's killed six boys and young men this year. The spike in cases has health officials concerned, and they are predicting more cases in the future.



  1. I just learned about this guy in med school. The mnemonic we all learned is “FOWL play, since 95% of patients will die within one week.”

  2. My father had to work around this bug when his firm was hired to plant wetlands around the margins of the L-Lake cooling reservoir for the US government’s Savannah River plutonium manufacturing site in the late 1980’s.

    When the DOE wanted to reactivate the L-reactor starting in 1985, they first had to create a cooling lake (because the EPA would not allow them to just dump the boiling hot water back in the river anymore the way they had used to, back in the 60’s). So they built a small reservoir called L-lake (cf the satellite photo on the wikipedia article http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Savannah_River_Site). The EPA further required that the margins of the lake not be left in a sterile state, but planted with wetland species. For which task my father, Gary Pierce, and his company were hired.

    Planting the lake was complicated by the presence of Naegleria in the lake (which, when the reactor was running, was naturally quite steamy, especially at the north end near the reactor). Everyone who worked on the project was required to wear a surgical mask and rubber kitchen gloves the entire time they were in the water — the mask to keep water from splashing on your nose and mouth, and the gloves partly to keep the bug off your hands, but more so to keep you from unthinkingly touching your face while out on the lake.

    I helped them do some planting during spring break one year. It was good money for a poor college student, but the main thing I remember is the exquisite pleasure of being able to take the blasted mask off once we were away from the water — an experience in some ways better than sex.

  3. Learned more about this in a graduate-level parasitology course in college in the late 70s. We had to do research and produce a paper. At the time there were only one or two deaths a year, at most, and the organism was less understood.

    Strengthened my apprehension about swimming in any water I can’t see through.

    (the most memorable part of the class was not the class. The end of the class was presenting our papers, two a session. I gave mine on Toxoplasma gondii and he gave his on the Naegleria same day. We had helped one another on our projects and dutch-treated ourselves to dinner. We made the folks in the next booth at the SXXXXXR (defunct steakhouse chain) leave before ordering….)

  4. Being afraid of “scary bugs” is a good way to spend your time. After all, some 250 people have died from it in the last year. But if you want to be truly frightened, look at a car. 40,000 people die in vehicle related accidents every year.

  5. I grew up in central florida swimming in tons of murky fresh water lakes. When ever we got home we had to wash out our ears with alcohol. My mother thought that is how they got in is through your ear.

  6. My home area near Matamata, New Zealand has had its problems with this bug.

    I remember mostly in the 1970’s when several people died after swimming in some popular thermal springs. The strict rule from the government health department after that was to never put your head under the water. It was a bit scary for the locals to think about because kids had been diving and swimming under water there for years.

    Here’s a report from the NZ medical association. The last death was in 2000. It doesn’t say there but I seem to remember that the guy who died in 1978 worked for the local town council and was there to take a water sample for testing and decided to go for a swim.



  7. Weird. We just talked about this on our last podcast. My wife brought it up because I had similar symptoms last week and she thought I may have contracted the BEA somehow:

  8. I just keep coming back here, hoping that someone authoritative has posted something telling us not to worry about having our brains eaten from the smellers up, but all I ever see are more people confirming it.

    My mental world was happier without this!

  9. Once upon a time I thought boingboing comments were cool to have back, but not when they decided to abolish the unicorn chaser.

    My nose and brain hurt.

  10. I am cheered to find I’m not the only reader whose nose-brain boundary is currently tingling.

    I have a friend who contracted an e-coli infection of the urethra (lengthy things in men, urethras) after swimming in Lake Travis in Austin, then sitting around in wet shorts; and another who contracted Weil’s from a river here in England. Fresh water swimming is not for me.

  11. One of my close friends died of this back in 1999. He was the 6th documented case at the time. It’s a terrible and extremely rare condition. The major concern is that it resides in only a few lakes, such as Lake O’Neil in Camp Pendleton (which is still being used as a camping site, and is right next to the hospital.) and Lake Havasu.

  12. Has anyone done any studies about our animals? Dogs are playing and running through the muck and the mud fetching for us lousy humans every day. Is there any info. for them? I know I’m never allowing my pup in the water again.

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