Free-living amoebae (FLA) can be found both in natural aquatic environments and in artificial, man-made aquatic environments. For a long time, (naked) FLA were considered to be harmless protozoa of soil and water. However, research since the 1960s has demonstrated that FLA can
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Free-living amoebae (FLA) can be found both in natural aquatic environments and in artificial, man-made aquatic environments. For a long time, (naked) FLA were considered to be harmless protozoa of soil and water. However, research since the 1960s has demonstrated that FLA can be pathogenic to humans and animals with nearly 100% morbidity from some strains. As etiological agents of the so-called Acanthamoebiasis, the Acanthamoebae can trigger several specific diseases (or symptoms) in humans. The amoebiasis of the central nervous system is called granulomatous amebic encephalitis (GAE), when Acanthamoebae are the etiological agents, showing subacute to chronic progress. GAE differs clinically from the primary amoebic meningoencephalitis (PAM(E)), which is caused by Naegleria fowleri
. The Acanthamoeba
keratitis is not necessarily associated with an immune suppression, but rather with a trauma, exposure to contaminated water or, particularly, the improper handling of contact lenses, which promotes infection. The clinical picture of GAE by Balamuthia mandrillaris
is characterized by headache and neck stiffness. The infection is chronic and the time between infection and appearance of neurological symptoms may range from one month to about two years. The prevalence of FLA in water networks is associated with biofilms, where the amoebae live within a biocoenosis sympatric with other microorganisms. These biofilms serve as feeding grounds for the FLA and provide protection to a certain degree while the FLA adhere to the surfaces. In such a biocoenosis there are multiple interactions between FLA and other microorganisms: In addition to their role as pathogens, FLA are known to serve as host of and vehicles for diverse intracellular organisms (bacteria, viruses, eucaryonts), some of them being natural human pathogens. They act as reservoir or vehicle for various microorganisms such as various Legionella
sp., Listeria monocytogenes, Pseudomonas aeruginosa
and some Mycobacterium
sp. In the cyst-stage of the FLA these intracellular organisms (endocytobionts) are protected to a high degree against any adverse environment (FLA as “Trojan horse”). This host-endocytobiont relationship may further lead to health risks in terms of the development of pathogenicity/virulence and antibiotic resistance (FLA as “Trainings ground”).