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Epidemiology of free-living ameba infections.

Small free-living amebas belonging to the genera Acanthamoeba and Naegleria occur world-wide. They have been isolated from a variety of habitats including fresh water, thermal discharges of power plants, soil, sewage and also from the nose and throats of patients with respiratory illness as well as healthy persons. Although the true incidence of human infections with these amebas is not known, it is believed that as many as 200 cases of central nervous system infections due to these amebas have occurred worldwide. A majority (144) of these cases have been due to Naegleria fowleri which causes an acute, fulminating disease, primary amebic meningoencephalitis. The remaining 56 cases have been reported as due either to Acanthamoeba or some other free-living ameba which causes a subacute and/or chronic infection called granulomatous amebic encephalitis (GAE). Acanthamoeba, in addition to causing GAE, also causes nonfatal, but nevertheless painful, vision-threatening infections of the human cornea, Acanthamoeba keratitis. Infections due to Acanthamoeba have also been reported in a variety of animals. These observations, together with the fact that Acanthamoeba spp., Naegleria fowleri, and Hartmannella sp. can harbor pathogenic microorganisms such as Legionella and or mycobacteria indicate the public health importance of these amebas.

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