10 Warning Symptoms of Brain-Eating Amoeba Infection: Deadly, Rare Disease Behind Kerala Incidents



Published on: 10-Jul-2024


10 min read




Anvesha Chowdhury


10 Warning Symptoms of Brain-Eating Amoeba Infection: Deadly, Rare Disease Behind Kerala Incidents

10 Warning Symptoms of Brain-Eating Amoeba Infection: Deadly, Rare Disease Behind Kerala Incidents

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The thought of a microorganism capable of eating away at the human brain sounds like a movie scene. Still, it is a terrifying reality for those who have encountered Naegleria fowleri. Brain-eating amoebas can infect humans severely and fatally, and the species most frequently linked to these diseases is Naegleria fowleri, which is generally found in warm freshwater habitats, including lakes, rivers, and hot springs. 

Known colloquially as the "brain-eating amoeba," Naegleria fowleri is a thermophilic, free-living amoeba found in warm freshwater environments. It causes a rare but devastating infection called primary amoebic meningoencephalitis (PAM), which progresses rapidly and is almost always fatal. Although uncommon, this condition travels to the brain after entering the body through the nasal passages. Recently, in Kerala, four people have died due to these infections, thus raising alarms about the spread and sudden emergence of this disease. 

Read ahead to learn about the brain-eating amoeba symptoms, why it suddenly is in the news and medical insights on this disease.

Table Of Contents

1. What Are The Prominent Amoeba Brain Symptoms?

2. Brain-Eating Amoeba Kerala Case

3. Dietitian’s Recommendation

4. The Final Say

5. FAQs

6. References

What Are The Prominent Amoeba Brain Symptoms?

Let’s have a look at some hallmark brain-eating amoeba infection symptoms: 

1. Severe Frontal Headache

A severe frontal headache is often the first symptom of primary amoebic meningoencephalitis (PAM). As Naegleria fowleri infiltrates the brain, it triggers an inflammatory response in the meninges, the protective layers surrounding the brain and spinal cord. This inflammation causes increased intracranial pressure and excruciating pain restricted to the frontal region. The persistent headache progressively worsens as the infection advances, reflecting the amoeba's destructive activity within the central nervous system.

Also Read: 8 Effective Cluster Headache Treatments For Immediate Relief 

2. Fever

When Naegleria fowleri is present, the body's immune system frequently reacts with a fever. The hypothalamus, which controls body temperature, raises the temperature to make the environment unfavourable for the infection. This immune response involves the release of pyrogens, substances that induce fever, to inhibit the growth and spread of the amoeba. Elevated body temperature is critical to the body's defence mechanism against infection.

3. Nausea And Vomiting

Nausea and vomiting frequently accompany the early stages of PAM due to increased intracranial pressure and the body's systemic inflammatory response. Signals to the vomiting centre in the medulla oblongata are triggered as the brain tissue becomes inflamed and damaged. These gastrointestinal symptoms are the body's attempt to expel perceived toxins and reduce the impact of the infection. However, they can also lead to dehydration and further complications if not managed promptly.

4. Stiff Neck

A stiff neck, or nuchal rigidity, is a hallmark of meningitis, including PAM. Inflammation of the meninges causes irritation and spasms of the neck muscles, resulting in stiffness and pain. The rigidity is due to the body's attempt to limit movement and protect the inflamed and sensitive brain and spinal cord from further damage. This symptom indicates the severity of the meningeal irritation and the spread of the infection within the central nervous system.

5. Confusion And Disorientation

As Naegleria fowleri destroys brain tissue, cognitive functions are impaired, leading to brain fog, confusion and disorientation. The damage to neurons and disruption of neural pathways affect the brain's ability to process information, resulting in altered mental status. Patients may need help understanding their environment, recognising people, or performing simple tasks. This symptom reflects the extensive and rapid neuronal destruction caused by the amoeba.

6. Seizures

Seizures occur as the infection progresses and the brain's electrical activity becomes disrupted. The destruction of brain cells and the inflammatory response cause abnormal electrical discharges, leading to convulsions and involuntary muscle contractions. Seizures are a critical indicator of severe neurological damage and require immediate medical intervention to prevent further injury and stabilise the patient.

7. Altered Mental Status

Altered mental status, including hallucinations and irritability, results from the widespread brain damage caused by Naegleria fowleri. The inflammatory response and tissue destruction affect brain areas responsible for cognition, emotion, and perception. Patients may experience vivid hallucinations, significant mood disorders, and behavioural disturbances, reflecting the profound impact of the infection on higher brain functions.

8. Loss of Balance And Coordination

The amoeba's destruction of brain tissue affects the cerebellum and other areas responsible for motor control, leading to loss of balance and coordination. Patients may struggle with walking, standing, and performing delicate motor tasks as the infection progresses. This symptom highlights the extent of neurological impairment similar to Alzheimer’s and dementia and the rapid progression of the disease, necessitating urgent medical attention.

9. Photophobia

Photophobia, or sensitivity to light, occurs due to the inflammation of the meninges and the increased intracranial pressure. The optic nerves and other visual pathways become irritated, causing discomfort and pain when exposed to light. This symptom is common in meningitis and indicates significant irritation and inflammation within the central nervous system, often accompanied by other severe symptoms.

10. Blurred Vision

The amoeba's effects on the parts of the brain in charge of processing visual information result in blurred vision. Inflammation and increased intracranial pressure affect the optic nerves and occipital lobe, leading to visual disturbances. Patients may experience double vision, difficulty focusing, and reduced visual acuity. This symptom underscores the extensive neurological damage and the need for immediate medical intervention to prevent irreversible harm.

11. Late-Stage Symptoms

In the late stages of PAM, the condition becomes critical. The patient may slip into a coma, and without prompt and aggressive treatment, death usually follows. Late-stage symptoms include:

  • Severe Neurological Deficits: As the brain tissue is increasingly damaged, severe neurological deficits occur, including paralysis, speech impairment, and loss of voluntary movement.

  • Coma: The patient may lose consciousness entirely, entering a comatose state from which it is challenging to recover.

  • Cardiac Arrest: As the brain controls vital functions, severe infection can lead to cardiac arrest and death.

Also Read: Disease X Pandemic In India: Symptoms & Strategies | ToneOp 

Brain-Eating Amoeba Kerala Case

Kerala has reported another case of amoebic meningoencephalitis, a rare brain infection caused by a free-living amoeba found in contaminated waters, bringing the total number of such cases to four.

According to a report from the PTI news agency, the patient is a 14-year-old boy, a resident of Payyoli in the Kozhikode district of north Kerala. He is being treated at a private hospital. The boy was admitted to the hospital on July 1. One of the doctors treating him reported, "His condition is improving." The doctor emphasised that the infection was identified quickly, and immediate treatment, including medicines from abroad, was administered.

  • Medical Insights

Medical experts explain that amoebic meningoencephalitis occurs when Naegleria fowleri enters the body through the nose, typically from contaminated water. Once inside, the amoeba travels along the olfactory nerve to the brain, causing severe inflammation and rapidly progressing symptoms such as severe headaches, fever, nausea, vomiting, and confusion. Despite treatment efforts involving antifungal and antimicrobial medications, the mortality rate remains high.

  • Previous Cases

Earlier this week, another 14-year-old boy died from the infection. In addition, a five-year-old girl from Malappuram was killed on May 21, and a 13-year-old girl from Kannur passed away on June 25. All three children succumbed to amoebic meningoencephalitis, highlighting the severity and rapid progression of the disease.

Also Read: Curious About the Hippocampus In the Brain? Here Are 14 Functions for Cognitive Wellness and Memory 

Expert’s Advice 

Naegleria fowleri is an amoeba that can cause severe inflammation in the central nervous system. It is found in warm and fresh water and enters the body through the nose. As a health expert, I advise people to avoid diving and swimming in lakes and ponds, especially where the water has been contaminated. Always use nose clips while swimming and avoid drinking tap water. 

                                                                                    Dt. Akshata Gandevikar

The Final Say

Naegleria fowleri, the brain-eating amoeba, is a formidable pathogen that causes a rare but often fatal infection known as primary amoebic meningoencephalitis. Understanding the symptoms and progression of PAM is crucial for early detection and treatment. While the prognosis remains bleak, advancements in medical treatments and increased awareness can help improve outcomes for those affected. Taking preventive measures and being vigilant about potential exposure can reduce the risk of encountering this silent killer.


1. Is there an amoeba brain-eating treatment?

There is currently no specific treatment for amoeba infection, which causes brain-eating amoebic meningitis (PAM), also known as primary amoebic meningoencephalitis. Amphotericin B, Azithromycin, Rifampin and Miltefosine have shown to manage the symptoms however, the disease progression is almost always fatal.  

2. What are the early symptoms of brain amoeba infection?

Early symptoms of Naegleria fowleri infection include severe frontal headache, fever, nausea, vomiting, and a stiff neck. These symptoms typically appear within 2 to 15 days after exposure and are similar to those of bacterial meningitis, making early diagnosis challenging.

3. How is a Naegleria fowleri infection diagnosed?

Diagnosis of a Naegleria fowleri infection involves a lumbar puncture to test cerebrospinal fluid, imaging studies like CT or MRI scans, and laboratory tests to detect the amoeba. Early and accurate diagnosis is critical for effective treatment.

4. How can Naegleria fowleri infections be prevented?

Preventing Naegleria fowleri infections involves avoiding warm freshwater bodies, using nose clips or keeping your head above water when swimming, and ensuring proper chlorination of pools and hot tubs. Using boiled or distilled water for nasal rinsing can also reduce the risk.


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