October 10th, 2012
09:59 AM ET

Brain-eating amoebas kill 10 in Pakistan

A waterborne, brain-destroying species of amoeba has killed 10 people in Karachi, Pakistan, this year, prompting local water officials to increase the amount of chlorine in the city’s water supply and advise residents to use sterilized water when performing a Muslim ritual which involves cleansing the nostrils.

Misbahuddin Farid, managing director of the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board, said the origin of the amoebas had not been determined, according to a report in the Dawn newspaper.

Naegleria fowleri

The amoeba, known by the scientific name Naegleria fowleri, is virtually impossible to detect in the water and its presence in humans is determined by spinal tests, according to information on the water board’s website.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Naegleria fowleri amoeba causes a severe brain infection called primary amebic meningoencephalitis. The disease is usually fatal.

The amoeba most commonly enters the body through the nasal passages and usually infects people who have been swimming in warm freshwater lakes and rivers, according to the CDC.

But it can exist in improperly chlorinated swimming pool or heated tap water, the CDC says.

Only one of the 10 victims of the current outbreak in Pakistan had visited a swimming pool, according to another report from the Dawn newspaper, so authorities are focusing on the Muslim ablution ritual, or waddu.

“Special care should be taken when doing waddu, brushing teeth or cleaning the nasal area,” the water board’s website says.

Two people in the U.S. state of Louisiana died from the amoeba last year after apparently contracting it when rinsing their sinuses with a neti pot, a small vessel used to pour warm water into one nostril and out the other.

Three other Americans died last year after contracting the amoeba while swimming.

The Karachi water board said it would increase chlorine content in the water supply for the city of more than 15 million people after tests of more than 900 water samples taken around the city found 22% to be unchlorinated or have insufficient levels of the chemical, according to a report in the Dawn newspaper.

Saghir Ahmed, minister of health for Sindh state, in which Karachi is located, said residents should be safe if they followed the water board’s advice.

“There is no reason to panic and citizens should stay calm and take precautions,” Ahmed was quoted by Dawn as saying.

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Filed under: Health • Pakistan
soundoff (312 Responses)
  1. Areacode612

    Are they sure it wasn't Allah?

    October 10, 2012 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse |
  2. James

    I didn't know 10 people had brains in Pakistan.

    October 10, 2012 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
  3. jamessavik

    This sounds like a bad sci-fi B movie from the fifties.

    It's from bad water and it wants to eat your brains!

    October 10, 2012 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Just Me

    Why be shock of this when Muslims kill more then 10 by the day?

    October 10, 2012 at 2:01 pm | Report abuse |
  5. jiri pincas

    Are you serious, 10 people in Pakistan actually had a working brain, that's 9 more than I figured. They are really
    screwed now, oh well don't worry the Taliban will pick up the slack. ha ha ha

    October 10, 2012 at 2:09 pm | Report abuse |
  6. doabitofhomework

    It is my understanding that chlorine does NOT kill the amoeba.

    I live in Mexico, which is tropical. All tropical soils contain amoebas as well as other intestinal parasites. I've gotten them often, usually due to my own stupidity.

    We have purification drops. You don't, and you might want to inquire WHY that is so. Nevertheless, any food that is to be eaten raw, and which grows close to the soil, must be ASSUMED to be loaded with parasites. If you fail to purify, you'll usually pay the price. The drops have been available here for 50 YEARS! They were able to wipe out cholera, which had become a severe problem. Mexico no longer has cholera. The drops work. They're inexpensive. They are totally harmless in the human body. Mexicans can have them, but Americans can't. I find that reprehensible. They're as needed north of the border as south. Are they shunned simply because they're a Mexican invention? That'd be the height of self-destructive stupidity.

    My doctor told me that even immersing the foods in chlorinated water will NOT kill most parasites, and particularly amoebas.

    So what good is it going to do if their government adds extra chlorine? Nada. What is needed is to educate the people on how to remove this risk to their own health.

    This amoeba is probably not the same one I've contracted in the past. Even so, it's unlikely to be susceptible to chlorine while other amoebas are not. Antibiotics are no good, either.

    Education is the key. I could write what you ought to know here, if it is okay to put 60-some pages into a comment text field. There's a lot to know, but none of it is difficult to learn. For these people, the best advice is to boil the water they intend to apply to intimate parts of their bodies. Boiling for 10 minutes WILL kill any organism. Then set it aside for the uses that should never put amoebas in your body.

    As for swimming, that's chancy, because you can't be sure even a swimming pool is free of them. So use ear and nose plugs if you must swim, and never let any water into your mouth. Even that might not be enough, but it's better than doing nothing.

    October 10, 2012 at 2:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alex

      Naegleria fowleri actually is sensitive to chlorine, and most will die when exposed to it. But it's true that chlorination doesn't guarantee a pool will be completely free of the protists. Honestly, I don't think there's any need to take more extreme precautions than just being smart about what water you choose to drink and swim in considering how rare cases of infection are. From what I've read, even direct exposure to naegleria fowleri is unlikely to result in infection.

      October 10, 2012 at 2:32 pm | Report abuse |
  7. fritz

    This creature is everywhere on the planet. Swimming in deep clean surface waters is generally okay, but swimming in shallow warm waters tends to kick up the bottom muck. That's where the danger lies. If the water becomes cloudy and full of bottom detritus, it's time to get out.

    October 10, 2012 at 2:12 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Piranha

    These amoeba's have wheels. Check out the picture.

    October 10, 2012 at 2:17 pm | Report abuse |
  9. soulcatcher

    At least it wasn't a congressional amoeba, those eat through your pocketbook, your employer, the economy, the national credit rating, and then your brain. Don't worry congress, you don't have a brain to worry about.

    October 10, 2012 at 2:20 pm | Report abuse |
  10. cheng Mein ping

    The Chinese have developed an antidote to the "Stink Bomb"threats from hindus. Billions of american skunks on steroids that will be let loose in India to neutralize the stench.Though I am not sure it will be strong enough.

    October 10, 2012 at 2:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sum Loung Dong

      Whatcha talking bout Willis

      October 10, 2012 at 3:15 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Rajesh

    Hope the water is not coming from India ganges.

    October 10, 2012 at 2:22 pm | Report abuse |
  12. jedoug

    Look at picture. Does anyone else see a dog chasing a man on a bicycle?

    October 10, 2012 at 2:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sum Loung Dong

      Yes yes I do

      October 10, 2012 at 3:17 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Kenneth P

    Maybe Talibans can take a few vials of this water to mumbai when they "vist" (wink wink) there next time. LMFAO!!!

    October 10, 2012 at 2:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Roy

      what a sucker you are. You & your thoughts stink in here.

      October 10, 2012 at 2:47 pm | Report abuse |
  14. This is Weak

    Pakistan needs a disease that kills the men but leaves the women unharmed.

    October 10, 2012 at 2:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Geoff

      Why have it only kill the men? The women are ugly there.

      October 10, 2012 at 3:07 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Sam

    They had brains for these bugs to eat? That would have killed the bugs first.

    October 10, 2012 at 2:39 pm | Report abuse |
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