A 43-year-old Murrieta firefighter has died after being infected with a rare brain-eating amoeba - Balamuthia mandrillaris.
Capt. Matt Moore fell ill in November and died Monday from complications of meningoencephalitis.
Balamuthia mandrillaris is a free-living leptomyxid amoeba which is known to cause disease in humans, especially the deadly neurological condition known as primary amoebic meningoencephalitis. Balamuthia has not been definitively isolated in nature, but it is believed to be distributed throughout the temperate regions of the world.
It enters the body through the lower respiratory tract or through open wounds. Upon introduction, the amoebas may form a skin lesion, or migrate to the brain. Once in the brain, Balamuthia causes a condition known as granulomatous amoebic encephalitis (GAE), which is usually fatal. The symptoms of infection by Balamuthia are unclear, as a very few patients have presented with the disease thus far. Balamuthia-induced GAE can cause focal paralysis, seizures, and brainstem symptoms such as facial paralysis, difficulty swallowing, and double vision.
Balamuthia infection has only been successfully treated in two cases. Both were treated with a cocktail of antibiotics and antiparasitics, although it is unclear if any or all of these medications played a part in treatment. Both victims suffered permanent neurological deficits as a result of their infection.
A 2004 study by the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta showed that the amoeba is particularly prevalent in California, where at least 11 cases have been reported.