This year, a brain-eating amoeba seemed to be invading the U.S. Every month there was a new story of someone either dying or miraculously recovering from their contact with Naegleria fowleri (N. fowleri) bacteria — the culprits that cause the parasitic infection. The explanation for the increase in cases of the brain-eating amoeba may lie in the earth’s changing climate. As the earth warms, bodies of water that were previously too cold for N. fowleri to exist, are now more susceptible than ever to contamination.
"The climate is changing, and let me tell you, so is this," said Travis Heggie, an associate professor at Bowling Green State University, according to The Verge. "If warm weather keeps up, I think we’ll see N. fowleri popping up farther and farther north."
And that’s what many fear. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), N. fowleri infects people when water containing the amoeba enters the body through the nose and travels to the brain, where it destroys the brain tissue. The amoeba is usually found in bodies of warm freshwater, like lakes, rivers, and hot springs. Since N. fowleri thrives in warm water, it was more common in warmer U.S. states where the water temperature is typically warmer. But recent infections have sprouted up further and further north due to changes in weather patterns.
Unfortunately, the brain-eating amoeba isn't the only deadly infection moving up north. According to USA Today, Valley Fever, Ehrichiosis, and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever are all seeing more cases up north and during season where one typically wouldn’t see them. Valley Fever, also known as coccidioidomycosis, is caused by a fungus found in the soil of dry, low rainfall areas. The condition is most common in the Southwest for that reason. Ehrlichiosis is a tickborne illness that causes fever, headache, and muscle aches. And Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is also a tickborne disease. Five states: North Carolina, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Missouri account for 60 percent of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever cases. The occurrence of these cases in the northern states is rare, but with the changing climate, researchers fear that it may be a very real possibility in the coming years.
Sonia Altizer, a professor of ecology at the University of Georgia, told USA Today that America’s public health system will likely protect people from the possibility of a catastrophic outbreak or plague. So, while it is important to take note of the earth’s changing climate, it doesn’t mean you should stay indoors and avoid outdoor activities altogether. However, she does believe it will take a substantial amount of money to address the growing problem and keep it under control.
"We really have to ask ourselves how much harder we'll have to fight to keep diseases out of this country as the climate warms," said Altizer, according to USA Today.