Brain Eating Amoeba

Last week, Mustafa Shafique died of Naegleria fowleri, more commonly known as the brain eating amoeba, in Lahore. His death marks the fourth case of the amoebae in the Pakistan this year, an alarmingly high number considering most years see no cases at all, especially when cases of Naegleria have a 98% fatality rate.

The recent and sudden influx in cases

The recent and sudden influx in cases of the amoebae is concerning to all residents of Pakistan and nearby countries, because of the method of spreading of the germ. The brain eating amoeba thrives in fresh water, meaning it contaminates lakes and rivers and is mostly contracted by swimmers who put their head under the water, allowing the amoebae to enter their brain through their nose. The amoebae enter the nasal cavity and then travel through the nasal mucosa and along the olfactory nerves to the cribriform plate and then enters the brain.

For Pakistan, a nation with one of the most extensive river networks utilized by millions of the residents, this is a major concern. The recent rains and flooding may be the reasons behind the spread of the amoeba, as many of the rivers overflowed their banks. Other than that, the water is also invaluable to the agricultural based country. In the summers, considering especially the severe heatwaves faced by the nationals of Pakistan, most of whom cannot afford air conditioning, bathing and swimming in local canals is a popular way of cooling off. Aside from that, with more than 90% of the Pakistani population being Muslim, wudhu (ablution) or ritual washing before prayer is something people engage in up to five times a day, a step in which involves cleaning the nose with water.

To add to the danger is the fact that medical care for treating cases of Naegleria is insufficient. This is because the disease is so rare in the country and the general levels of poverty and governmental neglect that do not leave much room for medical advancements, specifically for rare diseases.

Currently, Only a few Laboratories Test for the Brain Eating Amoeba at all,

Which may point to there being more undocumented cases. Some people, mostly those from the high rural population, may not consider the case severe enough for an expensive trip to the hospital because the initial symptoms are quite trivial, including things like flu, fever and headache. Unfortunately, even if the patients do get to a hospital, chances are they will die anyway because the facility will fail to identify the amoeba at cause.

However, this is not to say that precautions aren’t being taken. Chlorination is an effective method of killing the germ, and public pools are being advised to conduct chlorine treatments regularly. Dr Abdul Rauf, a family physician in Lahore, has advised water tankers to be cleaned at least twice a year and for tap water to be boiled before use for ablution.

It is imperative to spread information about the amoeba in Pakistan, which is being done by several NGOs and student run organisations in Lahore, because such a fatal malady is very simple to prevent and could save the lives of hundreds, especially rural dwellers to whom the precautionary message was never conveyed.

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