In recent days, several media outlets have reported the case of a 10-year-old girl from the province of Toledo who has managed to recover from the first case recorded in Spain of Primary Amebic Maningitis (MAP), a deadly disease in 1998. % of the cases of which barely a dozen registered survivors are known around the world. Researchers from the University Institute of Tropical Diseases and Public Health of the Canary Islands University of La Laguna They were key in the diagnosis of this case that has resulted in a happy ending.
The species Naegleria fowleri, called "amoeba comecerebros", is a free-living amoeba that preferentially inhabits warm bodies of fresh water. These protozoa have the ability to live in the environment, but also cause central nervous system infections, especially in children under 12 years. "This happens when they proliferate in these bodies of water, where patients exposed, after diving, can be affected by these amoebas that migrate to the brain through the olfactory nerves," says Jacob Lorenzo-Morales, a researcher at the ULL who directs the free life amoebas laboratory in the aforementioned institute.
At the end of March, the patient was admitted to the Virgen de la Salud public hospital in Toledo with symptoms indicative of meningitis, such as severe headache, high fever and neck stiffness. Once there, clinical samples of the patient were sent to the laboratory of protozoa of the National Center of Microbiology (CNM) directed by Dr. Isabel de Fuentes Corripio, who works closely with the laboratory of the University of La Laguna that directs the doctor Lorenzo-Morales, fruit of the inclusion of both laboratories in the National Network of Tropical Diseases (Ricet).
Although the diagnosis is complicated, the identification of this pathogen was obtained in samples from the patient and from the waters of the heated pool where the girl bathed. "When the investigations are over, we will see what steps to take, maybe we have to modify the maintenance regulations for these facilities, but now we have to tell the population to be quiet," explains Lorenzo-Morales.
Few, but lethal
The scientific literature does not provide conclusive data on the incidence of this microorganism, since the cases described worldwide do not reach 400 in the last five decades, with a lethality of 97%. This lack of past data is problematic for the investigation, as some cases could pass as nonspecific meningitis. Another, that even today "amoebic meningitis is not required to be reported", which makes get reliable information, adds the researcher.
Lorenzo-Morales emphasizes that the biggest problem of the disease is the absence of a 100% effective treatment and free of significant toxic side effects. "In Spain we suffer a total lack of funding to investigate in this line. No entity considers this field to be of interest due to its low incidence ", laments the director of the laboratory of the University Institute of Tropical Diseases and Public Health of the Canary Islands of the University of La Laguna.