Did you know that Naegleria claimed two lives in Karachi last week?
This brain-eating amoeba has gripped Pakistan and it is fatal in 98% of the cases. It is an emerging problem in the country and the first case of this disease was reported in 2008. By October 2019, Karachi had witnessed a total of 146 reported cases of Naegleria. Surprisingly, within just ten years, the number of cases in Pakistan surpassed the number reported in the USA over a span of fifty years.
What is Naegleria?
Naegleria, scientifically known as Naegleria fowleri, is a microscopic amoeba commonly found in warm freshwater environments such as lakes, hot springs, and poorly maintained swimming pools. It typically infects the brain when contaminated water enters the nasal passages.
The common way of catching this type of amoeba infection is when contaminated water enters your nose. Once inside, the amoeba travels to your brain. This typically occurs during activities like swimming, diving, or water skiing in contaminated water. In very rare cases, the infection can also occur from heated tap water or inadequately chlorinated swimming pool water. It’s important to note that you cannot get infected by swallowing contaminated water. People can also get infected if they inhale the infected dust.
An Alarming Situation in Pakistan
As per the spokesperson from the health department, a woman from Karachi’s Qayyumabad lost her life to Naegleria infection. The woman’s condition worsened after performing wudu at a private hospital in Karachi. She was immediately taken to Jinnah Hospital, where doctors confirmed the presence of Naegleria and unfortunately, she could not survive.
Sindh Information Minister, Sharjeel Inam Memon, has urged the people of Karachi to take precautions against Naegleria fowleri. During a press conference, the minister advised the public to avoid swimming in pools that have not been treated with enough chlorine. He also suggested refraining from activities that could allow water to enter the nose. Additionally, Memon mentioned that the provincial health department is actively planning an awareness campaign to educate people about the dangers of Naegleria disease.
Health experts from the Pakistan Medical Association (PMA) have expressed their concerns about the recent deaths caused by Naegleria fowleri in Karachi. They are urging the government to ensure that citizens have access to properly chlorinated water. What worries them is that many victims did not have a history of swimming, suggesting that the infection may have occurred due to the use of contaminated or non-chlorinated tap water.
Dr. Abdul Ghafoor Shoro from the PMA highlighted the association’s concern that Naegleria fowleri has been detected in the municipal water supply managed by the Karachi Water & Sewerage Board (KWSB). There is a fear that the number of unreported deaths may be higher than the reported cases. Sadly, a majority of people do not have access to safe water.
The association stated that people in the city are compelled to drink water that is contaminated, putting them at a high risk of contracting various infections. These infections include typhoid, gastroenteritis, cholera, hepatitis A and E, and a very dangerous disease called primary amoebic meningoencephalitis (PAM).
The association is advising people to add chlorine tablets to their underground water tanks (one tablet per 1,000 gallons of water). It is also recommended to clean water tanks in homes, hospitals, schools, shopping malls, and offices once a year.
The association is urging all doctors, especially general practitioners, and family physicians, to take symptoms like nausea, vomiting, headache, and high fever seriously if a patient presents with them. They are requesting doctors to test for Naegleria if such symptoms are observed. Additionally, individuals experiencing these symptoms are advised to visit their doctor promptly.
The main way to prevent harmful germ and the deadly disease it causes is by using chlorine to treat the water. Another method is to use boiled water when cleaning the nose, as the germ enters the body through the nose and can attack the brain.