Diseases & Conditions
Acanthamoeba are microscopic amoeba commonly found in the environment. They can cause a serious infection in the brain, the lungs, or the eyes. The amoeba can enter a child’s skin through a cut or wound, or through the child’s nostrils. Once inside the body, the amoeba can travel to the lungs and other parts of the body, especially the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord), through the bloodstream. Through improper storage, handling, and disinfection of contact lenses, the amoeba can enter the eye and cause a serious infection.
The species of Acanthamoeba that infect humans include: A. culbertsoni, A. polyphaga, A. castellanii, A. healyi, A. astronyxis, A. hatchetti, and A. rhysodes.
Acanthamoeba species (spp.) are found worldwide in the soil and dust, in freshwater sources such as lakes, rivers, and hot springs, and in hot tubs, or in brackish water and seawater. Amoeba can also be found in heating, venting, and air conditioner units, humidiﬁers, dialysis units, and contact lens equipment. The microbes have been found in the nose and throat of healthy people as well as those with compromised immune systems.
Eye infections may be caused by a contaminated contact lenses as a result of improper cleaning and handling. The risk of infection is higher for those who make their own contact lens cleaning solution. Acanthamoeba enter the eye via contact lenses or through a corneal cut or sore, triggering infection or a corneal ulcer.
Acanthamoeba spp. can cause skin lesions or a body-wide infection. In addition, the amoeba can lead to a serious, often deadly infection called granulomatous amoebic encephalitis (GAE). Once infected, a person may suffer headaches, stiff neck, nausea and vomiting, tiredness, confusion, lack of attention to people and surroundings, loss of balance and bodily control, seizures, and hallucinations. This condition is usually fatal.
Eye and skin infections are generally treatable with proper medication. Although most cases of brain infection with Acanthamoeba have been fatal, a few patients have recovered from the infection with proper treatment.
Eye infections may be prevented by using commercially prepared contact lens cleaning solution rather than making homemade solutions. There is little that can be done to prevent skin and body infection.