Rare killer parasite surfaces in Karachi’s waters

Published: July 20, 2012
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Naegleria has led to four deaths after the victims swam in water bodies such as swimming pools at farmhouses.

Naegleria has led to four deaths after the victims swam in water bodies such as swimming pools at farmhouses.

KARACHI: 

The emergence of a rare parasitic disease called Naegleria has led to four deaths after the victims swam in water bodies such as swimming pools at farmhouses that were not properly disinfected.

Since July 3, three cases were received at Liaquat National Hospital and one at Aga Khan University Hospital. All of the patients died within a few days.

An unconscious Fahad, a resident of Islamia Colony, was brought to Liaquat National Hospital on July 3 with fever. He died on July 6. Farhan from Nazimabad came in the same condition on July 10 and died after 24 hours. Sheikh Irfan from Korangi was brought on July 11 and died on July 14.

A senior medical officer from the LNH medical ICU ward which treated two of the patients told The Express Tribune that they had a history of going to a swimming pool at a farmhouse.

This information indicates that there is no cause for alarm. “It is not a communicable disease and cannot turn into an epidemic, so there is no need for panic,” explained Prof. Dr Afia Zafar, an expert microbiologist at the Aga Khan University. She urged that simple precautions can decrease the risk significantly.

The parasite amoeba fowleri penetrates the human body when a person dives into an infected swimming pool, fresh water pond, lake or river, when the water hits the roof of the nose. From there the parasite travels directly to the brain, causing acute Meningoencephalitis (inflammation of the brain and the membrane around it).

The disease progresses with high grade fever, headache, vomiting and a stiff neck. This is followed by unconsciousness and the disoriented or comatose patient is diagnosed with acute pyogenic meningitis, which can later result in cardio-respiratory failure.

The disease can be identified by an MRI, CT Scan or a spinal tap. “However, the disease is not identified as it is rare and clinicians do not look for it and most labs also do the same,” Zafar said. She suggested that doctors broaden their index of suspicion, as it is very easy to detect under the microscope. There is a suspicion that some patients are going undetected.

The course of the illness is fairly short – about five days. As doctors most commonly treat acute bacterial meningitis there is a risk the proper treatment is not given in time. Over the world, the mortality rate is known to be 95 per cent mostly because it is not diagnosed within time.

While the parasite can attack anyone, Zafar said that the younger lot is more likely to get affected as they often take to swimming to beat the heat.

The first few cases surfaced about three years ago in Karachi. Last year there were about nine cases at different hospitals, but there appears to be more this time, she said. It is a very rare disease but cases have been noted in the US and Australia.

People should avoid swimming in pools that are not properly disinfected with the internationally recommended percentage of chlorine. Fresh water ponds, lakes and rivers should also be avoided, she recommended.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 20th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (10)

  • waqas
    Jul 20, 2012 - 12:59PM

    What about tap water ?

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  • Mohammad Ali Gaad
    Jul 20, 2012 - 1:25PM

    so Mournfully to say about those peoples who lost their lives in this accident. it should be control.Peoples should not go to swimming pools like sun way lagoon or any other place that can be only the solution.

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  • Hardliner
    Jul 20, 2012 - 2:20PM

    Amongst the many political parasites, now arises an Naegleria…………

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  • TightChuddhi
    Jul 20, 2012 - 2:23PM

    Dont worry Altaf bhai will resolve the issue from London

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  • Big Man
    Jul 20, 2012 - 2:29PM

    This parasite is lurking in the pools since past many months. A young relative died last year with suspicious circumstances with symptoms similar to what mentioned in this article. Doctors were unable to identify the cause of illness. He has the history of visiting swimming pools in Karachi.

    Research shows that the parasite can incubate in untreated water, could be found in swimming pools, underground tanks, open water deposits etc.

    Recommend

  • devil
    Jul 20, 2012 - 4:38PM

    blame doctors 4 this also

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  • Ashfaq Ahmad
    Jul 20, 2012 - 10:57PM

    A friend of mine, 45 years old, expired two months back in Karachi with same symptoms

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  • Rehan
    Jul 21, 2012 - 11:00AM

    Guys for caution always wear good nose clips when swimming and dont dive in fresh water lakes and ponds. And it was most likely present in warm water bodies most of the indoor swimmign pools are cold ones. But never compromise on nose clips. They say it can be prevented by that and dont use the low quality phoney nose clips buy high quality ones.

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  • Lol
    Jul 26, 2012 - 8:01PM

    @TightChuddhi:
    LOL nice name dude

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  • Atif
    Jul 31, 2012 - 11:11PM

    The water line serving the houses in block 6 PECHS Karachi is frequently tempered with by a mob coming from the settlement / colony along the railway line. This is done in collusion with kwsb. Although the colony is not paying the water bills nor is authorized to use this line still the water board and police turn a blind eye towards the illegal tempering of the water line. This has exposed the tax paying citizens to contaminated water. the legal connections of the houses who pay the kwsb bills are honoured in this fashion. most of the times the mobs operate after mid night and also hurl abuses if told not to damage the water line.Recommend

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