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It is very early in the morning
and the air is very cold here at Kerosene Creek,
a natural hot spring near Rotorua on the North Island of New Zealand.
It's a natural swimming pool and waterfall
at a warm and comfortable bathing temperature year-round
because of the geothermal activity that's around here.
There is also a questionable smell in the air,
but fortunately that doesn't really come across on camera.
This place is not the local secret that it used to be.
Tourists flock here now, which is why I'm filming here so early.
I didn't really want to turn up to a swimming pool full of people
and awkwardly point a camera at them.
But there's one view that I can show you that the tourists won't get to see
because there's a rule here
that the government warnings are very clear about:
keep your head above water.
- The brain-eating amoeba can be found in hot pools and things like that.
So these organisms enter the nose
if you put your head under or you snort the water in.
They can then go from the nose through the olfactory nerves to the brain.
And then once in the brain they start to eat the neurons and astrocytes.
And they cause massive inflammation.
And then you get this horrible amoeboid disease.
It starts sometimes with a change in your sense of smell, sense of taste.
And then that can progress to headaches,
vomiting, fever, and then ultimately to seizures and death.
There are potentially a couple of drugs that are used,
one of which is not licenced for use,
and is actually very difficult to get hold of.
So in general there is no treatment,
and 97% of people die.
- Brain-eating amoeba aren't unique to here
or even to New Zealand.
They're common anywhere that there's warm, untreated water.
There was even a fatal case at Disney World in Florida in 1980,
back when they had a water park built into a lake.
And there are more odd cases too.
- When you've got a cold and you're really bunged up
in your sinuses, you can flush them out.
It's really important, if you're going to shove water up your nose,
because of the fact that there is this amazing--
these many nerves connecting your nose to your brain,
that you use only boiled water.
And so there have been cases of people
who've used neti pots just taking tap water.
And, ugh! They...
Brain-eating amoeba is not the only infection people have had.
There are other things,
but that is one potential thing people can get.
- But despite the terrifying name, the grisly stories,
and the 90-something percent chance of death if you're infected,
infection is really rare.
How much of that is down to the government warnings though?
Well, probably best not to have a control group for that experiment.
Although, that said, the warning signs that were once here aren't here any more.
- So what are the odds of it happening?
They're very, very, very rare.
The last case we had in New Zealand was, I think, in 2000.
But I guess the point is when it does happen, it's pretty catastrophic.
There will be things that we're doing in our daily lives
that are way more dangerous than this,
even from a microbial point of view.
We are covered in microbes,
we have really nasty microbes living in us and on us on a daily basis,
and most of the time it's okay.
Maybe one in three, one in four people
will have staph aureus living up their nose.
Pretty fine up there, but if you get that
in your bloodstream you can end up with horrible infection.
You're more at risk, frankly, from shoving your finger
up your nose and then touching a cut accidentally
than you are from having your brain eaten by amoeba.
- Thanks to Dr. Wiles at the University of Auckland
for all her expertise. Pull down the description
for the references she used in her research.