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Georgian dies from extremely rare brain-eating amoeba

ATLANTA, Ga. — A Georgian has died after an infection by what is commonly known as a “brain-eating amoeba,” according to the Georgia Department of Public Health.

The victim, who has not been identified, was infected with the Naegleria fowleri amoeba, which destroys brain tissue, causes brain swelling and usually death.

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Officials said the person likely was infected while swimming in a freshwater lake or pond in Georgia, but did not identify which body of water.

It’s only the sixth case of a Naegleria fowleri infection in Georgia since 1962. Only three people in the U.S. get infected every year, but almost all infections are fatal.

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Naegleria fowleri is an amoeba that lives in soil and warm, freshwater lakes, rivers, ponds and hot springs. People can become infected when water containing the amoeba goes up a person’s nose. It can’t infect people who swallow water and it doesn’t spread from person to person.

Symptoms of an infection include severe headache, fever, nausea and vomiting and progress to a stiff neck, seizures and coma that can lead to death. Symptoms start about five days after infection but can start anywhere from 1 to 12 days after infection. Symptoms progress rapidly and can cause death within five days.

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The amoeba is naturally occurring, and there is no routine environmental test for Naegleria fowleri in bodies of water; and because it is very common in the environment, levels of the amoebas that naturally occur cannot be controlled,” health officials said. “The location and number of amoebas in the water can vary over time within the same body of water.”

People should always be aware of the risk of getting infected in warm, fresh water. You can reduce your risk of infection by limiting how much water goes up your nose.

The CDC recommends not jumping into warm bodies of water during the summer, holding your nose shut or keeping your head above water and avoiding digging in sediment.