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Dermatology Online Journal

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Cutaneous Balamuthia mandrillaris infection as a precursor to Balamuthia amoebic encephalitis (BAE) in a healthy 84-year-old Californian


Soil and freshwater-dwelling amoebae may opportunistically infect the skin and evoke a granulomatous dermatitis that camouflages their underlying morphology. Amoebic infestations are incredibly rare in the U.S., predominantly occurring in the young, elderly, and immunocompromised. Sadly, because diagnosis is difficult and unsuspected, most cases are diagnosed at autopsy. The following case is of a healthy 84-year-old man with a non-healing nodulo-ulcerative cutaneous lesion on his left forearm that appeared following a gardening injury. Lesional punch biopsies repeatedly showed non-specific granulomatous inflammation with no pathogens evident histologically or by culture. Histopathologic diagnosis was made five months after initial presentation via identification of amoebic trophozoite forms in tissue from a large excisional specimen. Anti-amoebic therapy was initiated immediately. The patient experienced mental status changes three days following lesion excision, with evidence of a cystic mass in the left medial parieto-occipital lobe by CT. Both intraoperative brain biopsies and cutaneous tissue samples tested positive for Balamuthia mandrillaris by indirect immunofluorescent antibody assay performed at the Centers for Disease Control. The patient achieved a full recovery on a triple antibiotic regimen. Clinical suspicion and thorough histopathologic analysis may determine the difference between survival and death for a patient presenting with a treatment-refractory localized granulomatous lesion.

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