Australian Doctors Put on High Alert for Primary Amoebic Meningoencephalitis (PAM)

September 28, 2016


Doctors across Australia are being urged to be on alert this summer for a very rare but fatal brain disease after the death of a 12-month-old boy died at Townsville Hospital last year.

The boy was Australia’s latest victim of primary amoebic meningoencephalitis (PAM) after contracting it while swimming in a lake or river.

The boy, who comes from a western Queensland cattle-farming region, was unable to breathe on his own within 18 hours of leaving home with a persistent high fever and lethargy.

PAM is caused by Naegleria fowleri, a brain-eating amoeba found in warm fresh water, such as ponds, lakes, rivers, hot springs and poorly maintained municipal water supplies.

Rural and remote residents are most at risk due to hot bore water and long surface pipelines – which promote the group of large concentrations of Naegleria fowleri.

Infection occurs when water enters the nose, attacking the central nervous system.

The first confirmed case of PAM at Townsville Hospital was an 18-month-old girl from a rural North Queensland town who presented with fever, seizures and an altered level of consciousness.

She died within 72 hours of being admitted to the hospital.

Tragically, her older sibling who had died several years prior, was retrospectively diagnosed with PAM.

PAM is fatal in 95 percent of cases and has proven difficult for doctors to diagnose, as the symptoms mirror those of bacterial meningitis.

Australian Society for Infectious Diseases president Professor Cheryl Jones said it is vitally important for doctors in PAM-affected communities to be aware of the rare disease.

“Any acutely unwell child with a history of bore water exposure and signs of meningitis or encephalitis should be considered for PAM as a potentially life-threatening diagnosis,” Professor Jones said.

“Families should avoid swimming or diving into warm fresh water or to hold their nose if this can’t be avoided.”

With AAP

© Nine Digital Pty Ltd 2016


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