Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Brain & Nervous System Health Center

Font Size

Brain-Eating Amoeba

It doesn't happen often. But most summers, several Americans -- usually healthy, young people -- suffer sudden, tragic deaths from a brain-eating amoeba.

What is this scary bug? How does it get to the brain? Where is it and how can I avoid it? WebMD answers these and other questions.

Recommended Related to Brain & Nervous System

Winning the Battle

At first, 14-year-old Austin Story resisted the family’s plans to go hiking at beautiful Stokes State Forest on the morning of Tuesday, Aug. 31. “He didn’t want to go hanging out with adults because adults are too slow,” recalls Army Lt. Colonel Shane Story, 48. “But we insisted because it was going to be our last part of a weekend vacation with friends in New Jersey. … We wanted him off the TV and the Xbox and outside, enjoying the forest and the hills.” Despite his initial stubbornness, as soon...

Read the Winning the Battle article > >

What Is a Brain-Eating Amoeba?

Amoebas are single-celled organisms. The so-called brain-eating amoeba is a species discovered in 1965. It's formal name is Naegleria fowleri. Although first identified in Australia, this amoeba is believed to have evolved in the U.S.

There are several species of Naegleria but only the fowleri species causes human disease. There are several fowleri subtypes. All are believed equally dangerous.

N. fowleri is microscopic: 8 micrometers to 15 micrometers in size, depending on its life stage and environment. By comparison, a hair is 40 to 50 micrometers wide.

Like other amoebas, Naegleria reproduces by cell division. When conditions aren't right, the amoebas become inactive cysts. When conditions are favorable, the cysts turn into trophozoites -- the feeding form of the amoeba.


Where Are Brain-Eating Amoebas Found?

Naegleria loves very warm water. It can survive in water as hot as 113 degrees Fahrenheit.

These amoebas can be found in warm places around the globe. N. fowleri is found in:

  • Warm lakes, ponds, and rock pits
  • Mud puddles
  • Warm, slow-flowing rivers, especially those with low water levels
  • Untreated swimming pools and spas
  • Untreated well water or untreated municipal water
  • Hot springs and other geothermal water sources
  • Thermally polluted water, such as runoff from power plants
  • Aquariums
  • Soil, including indoor dust

Naegleria can't live in salt water. It can't survive in properly treated swimming pools or in properly treated municipal water.

Most cases of N. fowleri disease occur in Southern or Southwestern states. Over half of all infections have been in Florida and Texas.

1 | 2 | 3

Today on WebMD

nerve damage
Learn how this disease affects the nervous system.
senior woman with lost expression
Know the early warning signs.
woman in art gallery
Tips to stay smart, sharp, and focused.
medical marijuana plant
What is it used for?
senior man
boy hits soccer ball with head
red and white swirl
marijuana plant
brain illustration stroke
nerve damage
Alzheimers Overview
Graphic of number filled head and dna double helix