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The Brain-Eating Amoeba in Minnesota — Live

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Last Thursday I received an email from the media coordinator for Scientific American about a brain-eating microbe. It’s not every day you get to answer the call of duty on one of those.

Minnesota Public Radio had asked to interview me about a microorganism suspected in the death of a young boy in the state this year — only the second time in the state’s history and the second in two years. I’d written about the microbe — Naegleria fowleri — here twice before (including a discussion of why calling them “amoebas” is a bit of a misnomer).

Intrigued (and more than a bit scared — it would be my first live radio interview), I granted the request. Although they focused much more on the scare and less on the science than I would like, it was an interesting and overall good experience.

For example, I expected there to be some sort of person telling me “Annnnd . . . you’re on!” Instead, they simply put me on hold by allowing me to listen to the radio broadcast as it was happening, including listening to a discussion of the interview with me that was about to come up. Talk about nerve-wracking!

Then, without any warning, what sounded on my phone for all the world just like listening to the radio in my car seamlessly transformed to live radio as the host thanked me for coming on. I was on air. I was on air? I think there’s a pause on the recording before I awkwardly say “Good morning”, because I can’t quite believe what was just radio has turned into an actual phone conversation that I’m on.

In any case, Minnesota only had their first recorded case two years ago, and then their second in the same lake this year. It’s a disease most often striking in warm stagnant water in the south, and the interviewer asked me about that. He also asked me about how scared people should be. I tried to emphasize that people need to put the risk of this disease in perspective — it’s a super rare infection. Many thousands more swimmers die from drowning than from brain-eating “amoebas” in any given year — and your life, I would guess, is more in danger on the car ride to the lake than from N. fowleri once in the lake.

Here’s a link to the interview. You’ll need to hit play on the little audio player at the top of the summary.

Jennifer Frazer About the Author: Jennifer Frazer is a AAAS Science Journalism Award-winning science writer. She has degrees in biology, plant pathology/mycology, and science writing, and has spent many happy hours studying life in situ. Follow on Twitter @JenniferFrazer.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. kdimoff 11:00 pm 08/12/2012

    cool, jennifer! to me it really doesn’t matter how low the odds are, i still just add it to the list of things i worry about haha :)

    Link to this

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