Alarm as ‘brain-eating amoeba’ kills two more in Karachi

There was a scramble for chlorine tablets, like the one pictured here, when it emerged on Friday that two people fell victim to the ‘brain-eating amoeba’ in the past 15 days in Karachi.—Fahim Siddiqi / White Star

KARACHI: Two more deaths caused by Naegleria fowleri, commonly known as the ‘brain-eating’ amoeba, have been reported from a private hospital in Clifton during the past 15 days, bringing the total number of deaths caused by Naegleria to three this year, said provincial health authorities and hospital sources on Friday.

The lack of coordination between the provincial health department and the hospital administration was evident when the former expressed unawareness about any such cases in the city.

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“We have inquired about such cases from all the major private hospitals but no one has confirmed them,” said a senior official in the health department.

“A private hospital has confirmed the death of one person, a man named Farooq, while the other death of a woman is suspected to be due to the brain-eating amoeba but it has not been confirmed by the hospital,” said Zafar Ejaz, director health of the provincial health department.

Sources in Dr Ziauddin Hospital in Clifton said the hospital admitted two individuals within the past two weeks and both died of Naegleria fowleri.

The latest death, they said, was of a 37-year-old man, resident of Defence Housing Authority, who was admitted in the hospital earlier this week. He died on Thursday.

The sources said a 40-year-old woman, resident of Clifton Block 5, was also admitted to Dr Ziauddin Hospital two weeks ago and she, too, died a couple of days later due to Naegleria.

In April a teenage girl from an affluent neighbourhood of Gulistan-i-Jauhar became the first victim of Naegleria. Last year the deadly disease killed 14 people.

Swimming is considered to be one of the chief causes of the disease in which the amoeba, which feeds on bacteria of warm waters, enters the brain through nasal cavity and eats up the brain. Reports about any of those victims swimming are still awaited.

Officials voiced their concern over the reports of two deaths in affluent neighbourhoods saying that it indicated tap water being supplied to the city was poorly chlorinated.

Health department officials said it was important for all public and private hospitals to share information about Naegleria-related cases and deaths with the department so that they could take pre-emptive measures in the affected areas and save precious human lives.

Officials added that the symptoms of Naegleria infection might be easily overlooked as they closely looked like other forms of infection such as meningitis and tuberculosis. An expert said the symptoms of the disease started one to seven days after the infection and initially included disorientation, loss of balance and seizures. The disease progressed rapidly and death occured within 12 days. The efficacy of drugs considered effective against Naegleria had not yet been found, he said.

Lately, the authorities have asked the health officials across the province to examine all samples in cases of suspected meningitis for Naegleria. Moreover, the Sindh health department has sent letters to the senior director health services of the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation and all directors of health services across the province in which they have been asked to take immediate measures including creating awareness about the ‘brain-eating’ amoeba among medical and paramedical staff and the general public as well as sampling of water reservoirs to assess its chlorination level.

A similar letter was sent to the managing director of Karachi Water and Sewerage Board in which he had been asked to consider the warning letter as a wakeup call to all those required to join the efforts in combating the disease. The KWSB had been asked to ensure optimum chlorination of water being supplied by it and constitute teams for daily water sampling to contain the disease.

However, officials said there was no need to panic as the risk of Naegleria was generally very low and it could not be acquired from properly disinfected water.

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