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Death by brain-eating amoeba is an inside job

Immune response may be the real killer after infection with N. fowleri

7:28pm, July 20, 2015
amoebas (yellow); brain (blood vessel and blood cells shown in blue and orange)

BRAIN BOUND  Naegleria fowleri amoebas (yellow) get into the brain through the nose and attack tissue in the brain (blood vessel and blood cells shown in blue and orange), but the major danger comes from the immune system’s reaction, scientists suggest.

On July 9, just a few days after swimming in Minnesota’s Lake Minnewaska, 14-year-old Hunter Boutain was dead. Doctors believe the culprit was the water-dwelling amoeba called Naegleria fowleri. Most people know it by its other name: The brain-eating amoeba. 

It’s the stuff of horror films — the tiny amoeba crawls up the nose to the brain where it wreaks havoc, ultimately killing 97 percent of its victims. But while the amoeba is certainly devastating for the small number of people it infects, calling it a “brain eater” may not be quite right. The immune system’s response to infection — not the amoeba itself — is the real killer, some scientists suspect.

The single-celled N. fowleri, which thrives in warm freshwater, is “destructive, nobody doubts that,” says Abdul Mannan Baig, a physiologist at Aga Khan University in Karachi, Pakistan, where numerous N. fowleri infections have

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