Doctors to be on alert this summer for deadly disease

JAMIE MURRAY

Doctors have been told to be on alert this summer for an extremely rare but deadly disease since the death of a young boy late last year.

The disease known as Primary Amoebic Meningoencephalitis or PAM caused the death of a 12-month old boy from a West-Queensland area known for cattle-farming.

PAM is caused by the brain-eating amoeba, Naegleria fowleri, most commonly found in bodies of warm freshwater such as ponds, rivers and lakes.

Rural and remote communities are at risk in particular because of extensive use of hot bore water and above ground piping in which Naegleria fowleri can thrive.

According to Water Research Australia it is extremely unlikely to be find Naegleria fowleri in public water supplies in Australia.

Infection occurs when water containing the amoeba travels up the nose and then on to attack the brain and central nervous system.

Initial symptoms of PAM include high fever, nausea and changes to the senses of smell and taste and occur during the first week of infection.

Death usual occurs between one and two weeks after the initial infection.

However, contracting PAM is rare but is also extremely fatal when infected with a 95 per cent fatality rate. It is also difficult to diagnose due to having symptoms similar to bacterial meningitis.

The chances of contracting PAM are rare however, it has been fatal in 95 per cent of recorded cases.

Dr Claire Nicholls, who works at Townsville Hospital as emergency registrar believes that more awareness of the disease is needed in Australia.

Dr Nicholls also thinks better education is needed especially among doctors in hopes of it leading to more testing for the disease.

To reduce chances of infection avoid jumping or diving into warm bodies of water and keep your head above the water’s surface.

Naegleria fowleri cannot be found in salt water or well maintained chlorinated swimming pools.

More information can be found at the Queensland Health website.

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