Man dies after contracting brain-eating amoeba in northern Israel

Only around 400 cases of the disease have been diagnosed worldwide with a 98.5% mortality rate.

 Naegleria fowleri, also known as the "brain-eating" amoeba (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Naegleria fowleri, also known as the "brain-eating" amoeba
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

A 36-year-old man from northern Israel has died after contracting an infection caused by the brain-eating amoeba known as Naegleria fowleri.

According to a statement released by the Health Ministry on Friday morning, the 36-year-old, who had no underlying health conditions, recently passed away after suffering from a fatal brain infection caused by the amoeba.

Only around 400 cases of the disease have been diagnosed worldwide, and once the case was detected in Israel by an infectious disease specialist, he alerted the district health office and the Health Ministry. Due to the rare nature of the disease, a clinical sample was also then sent to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US.

The Health Ministry is investigating the cause of the infection alongside the Environmental Protection Ministry and the Agriculture Ministry and stated that they will update the public on their findings at the conclusion of the investigation.

The brain-eating amoeba can be found in contaminated freshwater, puddles, or stagnant water sources of various types, with the most likely sources being lakes, streams, rivers, and hot springs. However, it can also be found in puddles and soil near industrial plants, as well as in unchlorinated swimming pools.

 View of a water stream, in Golan Heights, Northern Israel. June 14, 2019. (credit: DAVID COHEN/FLASH 90) View of a water stream, in Golan Heights, Northern Israel. June 14, 2019. (credit: DAVID COHEN/FLASH 90)

Around 400 cases of the disease have been reported worldwide, and it is almost always fatal, with a 98.5% mortality rate. And, for those who do survive, there is a high chance of experiencing permanent brain damage.

What is Naegleria fowleri?

The Naegleria fowleri - known colloquially as a brain-eating amoeba due to the destruction of brain tissue that occurs after infection - penetrates the human body through the nose. The amoeba then travels up the nose to the brain, causing a rapidly-progressing infection that results in the destruction of brain tissue.  It is important to note that infection cannot be caused by drinking contaminated water, and the only known way that the amoeba can be contracted is through the nose. 

The initial symptoms of the disease include headaches, fever, nausea and vomiting, and start around five days after infection.

As the infection progresses, the patient will begin to experience a stiff neck, confusion, reduced awareness of their surroundings, loss of balance, seizures and hallucinations.  Once symptoms set in, the disease progresses quickly, and death usually occurs within about five days after initial symptoms.