The parasite has killed a man who recently came back from Thailand, the health authorities say
The first ever case of Naegleria fowleri, often referred to as a ‘brain-eating amoeba’, has been recorded in South Korea, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said on Monday.
The single-celled organism caused the death of a Korean male in his 50s last week, the agency said.
The victim returned to South Korea on December 10 after spending four months in Thailand. He was hospitalized the next day, but could not be saved, according to the authorities.
Doctors carried out tests that confirmed that the gene discovered in the man’s system was 99.6% similar to that found in primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM) patients in other countries.
PAM is a severe infection caused by Naegleria fowleri, an amoeba that resides in soil and freshwater around the globe and feeds on bacteria. It enters the human body by inhalation through the nose and then makes its way into the brain.
The symptoms of the infection include headache, fever, nausea or vomiting, stiff neck, seizures, and altered mental state, and as PAM progresses, it often leads to coma and death. The fatality rate from the disease is extremely high and there is no specific cure for it. It is also hard to diagnose, as it is a rare condition.
In the US, there were 154 confirmed infections with the brain-eating amoeba between 1962 and 2021. Only four patients survived, putting PAM’s death rate at 97%, according to US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. The World Health Organization estimates that there are around 1,000 to 2,000 cases of Naegleria fowleri globally every year.
The organism cannot be transmitted from human to human, but the South Korean authorities still advised the public to refrain from swimming in areas where the disease has been reported.