South Korean man dies from ‘brain-eating amoeba’ upon return from Thailand

Health officials in South Korea confirmed that a Korean national died from a disease known as “brain-eating amoeba.” He had not long returned from Thailand.

In the first case of its kind in South Korea, a man “in his 50s” died from a Naegleria fowleri infection, commonly known as brain-eating amoeba, according to a report released by the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) yesterday.

Naegleria fowleri is a single-celled organism – an amoeba – that lives in soil and freshwater, such as lakes, rivers, and waterfalls all across the globe. The amoeba enters the body through the nose, travels to the brain, and eats.

With a death rate of over 97%, most people infected with Naegleria fowleri do not survive. Cases are fairly rare and this was the first of its kind in South Korea.

The deceased returned to South Korea on December 10 after spending four months in Thailand. The next day, he was admitted to the hospital. Ten days later, he died.

The disease’s incubation period is can be anywhere between two and 15 days. At first, those infected might experience headaches, fever, nausea, or vomiting. Later, symptoms develop into severe headaches, fever, vomiting, and a stiff neck.

Passing the disease from human to human isn’t possible, said the KDCA. In a press release, the Head of the KDCA Dr Jee Young-mee advised…

“To prevent the infection of Naegleria fowleri, we recommend avoiding swimming and leisure-related activities and using clean water when travelling to areas where cases have been reported.”

You cannot become infected by drinking contaminated water, but are more likely to be infected by swimming in it, said the KDCA. The risk is higher when the water temperature rises in summer.

As of 2018, the world recorded a total of 381 cases of “brain eating disease” from Naegleria fowleri in India, Thailand, the US, China, and Japan.

Between 1962 and 2021, the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention reported 154 cases of Naegleria fowleri. Only four survived.

In August, a 7 year old boy died from a Naegleria fowleri infection after swimming in a northern Californian lake.

World News


Leah is a translator and news writer for the Thaiger. Leah studied East Asian Religions and Thai Studies at the University of Leeds and Chiang Mai University. Leah covers crime, politics, environment, human rights, entertainment, travel and culture in Thailand and southeast Asia.

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