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Man dies after pot plant turns his brain to ‘liquid’

An 82-year-old man died from a rare infection after being exposed to contaminated soil while he was potting plants, that turned his brain to “liquid”.

The elderly man was brought to a hospital emergency department after feeling weak for two weeks. He also had a history of B-cell lymphoma, a type of blood cancer, but had been in remission for more than a decade.

A day after being admitted, the patient became weak on his right side, and developed an “altered mental status”, researchers from Emory University in Atlanta wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine.

An MRI scan revealed he had an abnormality in his left frontal lobe. The patient’s condition worsened and he became drowsy and started having seizures, despite receiving treatment for bacterial, fungal, and viral meningitis.

Two days later, a second scan revealed a large lesion in the temporal lobe. He died nine days after being admitted to hospital. His autopsy showed “liquefactive necrosis” in part of his brain, that is, the transformation of tissue into a liquid viscous mass.

It also identified an acanthamoeba species, which allowed doctors to diagnose him with granulomatous amebic encephalitis – a rare, and usually fatal, central nervous system disease caused by free-living amoebas.

“The amoeba is transmitted through contact with soil or fresh water,” doctors wrote in the report.

“Discussion with the patient’s wife revealed only an exposure to soil from potted-plant maintenance.”

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