News Feature | October 5, 2018

Brain-Eating Amoeba Takes Life In New Jersey

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,
@sarmje

amoeba reg new

The so-called "brain-eating" amoeba, a water-based threat that poses a risk to water utilities, has taken another life.

Fabrizio Stabile, a 29-year-old man from Ventnor, NJ, appears to have contracted the amoeba on a trip to Central Texas. He died on September 21 in the Atlantic City Medical Center in New Jersey.

"Stabile tested positive for Naegleria fowleri -- an amoeba that typically occurs in warm fresh water -- the day before his death," NJ.com reported, citing a GoFundMe page creating a foundation in his memory.

His diagnosis was primary amoebic meningoencephalitis (PAM), a rare condition most recently diagnosed in 2016, according to WIRED. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have only reported 143 cases since 1962. PAM's initial symptoms are flu-like.

"This is actually the first time it's been detected in a New Jersey resident," says state epidemiologist Tina Tran, per WIRED. "It's more common in the southern states, where the water tends to be warmer."

Stabile did not immediately realize that his health had been severely compromised.

"On September 16, he was mowing the lawn when he had to stop due to a severe headache. He took medication and slept through the night, but was still dealing with pain the next day, and went back to sleep with more medication. That afternoon, his mother tried to wake him up but Stabile was unable to get out of bed or speak coherently, and he was rushed to the hospital," PEOPLE reported.

It is believed that Stabile contracted the amoeba on a trip to a waterpark in Waco, TX. Officials are testing the water to find out.

The amoeba poses a risk to municipal water systems.

"As rare as PAM is, the amoeba that causes it is common in freshwater. Epidemiologists have found it in lakes and rivers as far north as Minnesota, which saw its first case of PAM in 2010, and in pools, water parks, and municipal water systems across the American south. Researchers at the CDC have gone so far as to call it ubiquitous. Those same researchers predict its range will only expand, as global temperatures increase," WIRED reported.

In 2014, Louisiana set rules for water utilities with regard to the amoeba.

The rule "required that water systems in the state maintain a higher residual disinfectant level and increase their number of sampling sites by 25 percent. Most drinking water systems in Louisiana were required to meet this new higher standard by February 1, 2014," the department said.

Image credit: "amoeba" Michael Wunderli © 2006, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license:https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/