Vietnam's 2nd case of deadly brain-eating amoeba still puzzling

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Doctors in Ho Chi Minh City have revealed surprising findings about Vietnam's second case of a rare brain-eating amoeba, but much about the recent death is still a mystery.

Speaking at a conference on Tuesday, Dr. Phan Van Hieu, director of HCMC Center for Forensic Science, said the number of the amoeba, Naegleria fowleri, in the brain of the six-year-old victim, and the extent of the damage to his brain, suggested that the organism had entered his body just over one week before he died on August 12.

However, diagnosis of an abscess a pus-filled cavity formed from inflammation in response to bacterial infection in the brain suggested that the brain could have been attacked by the amoeba for at least one month, Hieu said.

The forensic center's report presented by Hieu at the conference stirred and puzzled experts, VnExpress reported. 

Usually people develop first symptoms of amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM) - a brain inflammation and nervous system disease caused by the organism - within one to seven days since exposure, and they die within one to 12 days since the first symptoms.

Dr. Truong Huu Khanh, head of the infection and neurology department at Children Hospital 1, even raised doubts about the earlier diagnosis that concluded that the boy died because of PAM caused by Naegleria fowleri.

But that suspicion was soon rejected by Dr. Dinh Nguyen Huy Man, chief of testing department at the HCMC Hospital for Tropical Diseases, which conducted the tests together with the forensic center, the news website said.

Meanwhile, Dr. Nguyen Van Vinh Chau, director of the tropical diseases hospital, said that if the findings were really true, it would be one of the world's rarest cases of the disease. He stressed that there has been only one case in which a patient survived as the amoeba weakened and finally died.

In fact, Hieu said he would probably present the findings at conferences on the amoeba in other countries, according to VnExpress.

As much as it was shocking, the latest report still failed to find out where the boy contracted the organism a question that has puzzled local experts and officials since the case was reported.

While the amoeba lives in fresh-water bodies, the boy, who was cognitively impaired, had not come in contact with any body of water before falling sick.

He had a fever two days before being hospitalized with respiratory difficulties and blue skin on August 12. He died that same day.

The first victim, a 27-year-old man, had fallen sick soon after swimming in a lake in the central province of Phu Yen. He died on July 31 at the HCMC Hospital of Tropical Diseases.

Since the first case, Vietnamese health authorities have warned people to take precautions while swimming in lakes and ponds, as the amoeba penetrates the nasal mucous membrane and enters the brain, causing the disease.

Still, local officials and doctors stressed that the chances for a person to be exposed to the amoeba were quite low.


The US Centers for Disease Control said on its website that there were 123 PAM infections from 1962 through 2011 with only one survivor. The annual number of US infections ranges from 0 to 8, it said.

Earlier this month, the World Health Organization reported that the amoeba killed at least ten people in Pakistan's southern port city of Karachi since May.

The disease first surfaced in Karachi, a city of 18 million people, in 2006, Reuters reported, adding that this year's outbreak has been the first since then and the most recent deaths occurred last week.

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