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Brain-sucking parasitic killer menaces warming lake waters

Death on the installment plan never sounded so good

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Eat your heart out, David Cronenberg. Mad CIA frankenscience runs amuck in the American heartland. Brain-wasting parasite fans techno-paranoia. The pitch would write itself.

Unfortunately, the reality of biological science is sometimes more than the stuff that cinematic sci-fi fantasy is made on. American health officials recently have grown alarmed at an unusual spike in incidences of Primary Amoebic Meningoencephalitis (PAM), a lethal affliction of the central nervous system caused by a rare warm water amoeba, AP reports.

The parasite typically thrives in warm fresh water and enters through the nostrils, where it leads to rapid olfactory necrosis. It then follows the nerves into the cranial cavity itself, where it devours the brain tissue. Coma, and, almost unfailingly, death, follow within a couple of weeks.

Ready for a swim?

The odds of contracting the rare parasite, Naegleria fowleri, are undoubtedly slim. From 1995 to 2004, only 23 people in America died from this Ridley Scott-worthy succubus. However, six have died in America this year alone. Although the sample is admittedly small, and therefore of scientifically questionable value, the amoeba's preference for warm water in a rapidly warming world has caught the attention of those who track such outbreaks.

"This is definitely something we need to track," said Michael Beach, a specialist in waterborne illnesses for the American Centre for Disease Control (CDC). "This is a heat-loving amoeba. As water temperatures go up, it does better. In future decades, as temperatures rise, we'd expect to see more cases."

An omen of global warming scourges to come? We shall see. ®

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