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New test by AdventHealth to more quickly detect deadly brain-eating amoeba

todaySeptember 1, 2022 5

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FLORIDA – AdventHealth announced on Thursday the development of a new test to more quickly detect and treat potentially deadly infections caused by amoebas found in fresh water in Florida and other areas.


What You Need To Know

  • AdventHealth announced on Thursday the development of a new test to more quickly detect and treat potentially deadly infections caused by amoebas

  •  Amoebas can be found in fresh water in Florida, including lakes and rivers 

  • Dr. Vincent Valente said symptoms of the infection include fevers, severe headache, stiff neck, nausea and hallucinations

“This test technically is looking for the presence of DNA from the three most common free living amoebas that we found in fresh water bodies,” said Dr. Jose Alexander, microbiologist and medical director of the microbiology, virology department for AdventHealth Central Florida, whose team contributed to the development.

If the specific sequence of the DNA for these amoebas is present on the specimen, then the test, which is PCR-based, is going to amplify or replicate the sequence to make it available to identify, according to Alexander, adding that the test that is highly specific for these three different amoebas.

Alexander said the test is being evaluated right now, being able to identify down to two amoebas in one milliliter of cerebrospinal fluid.

Amoebas thrive in warm environments. The contact of the nose and mucus allows the amoebas to enter through the olfactory nerve to the brain. When they reach the brain, the amoebas release toxins and also some waste from the metabolism of the amoeba. Also a strong reaction for the immune system is what creates all of the symptoms and the whole syndrome, which is Primary Amebic Meningoencephalitis, explained Alexander.

“This revolutionary test will help us confirm the diagnosis expeditiously, enable us to initiate the proper treatment sooner. Thus allowing the patients to hopefully survive this possibly lethal illness,” said Dr. Vincent Valente, emergency medicine physician and assistant emergency medical director at AdventHealth Altamonte, emphasizing that early detection and early treatment is paramount in the survival of these patients.

Valente said symptoms of the infection include fevers, severe headache, stiff neck, nausea and hallucinations.

Alexander said at the moment that the specimen is received, the results should be back within five hours.

Steve and Shelly Smelski lost their 11-year-old son to an amoeba infection in 2014. The couple founded the Jordan Smelski Foundation for Amoeba Awareness.

“This is just game changing for a life-saving opportunity for other families coming in, and that’s really what we want, is just to have children’s lives be saved,” said Shelly Smelski.

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