Brain-eating parasite kills 12-year-old in Florida

Brain-eating parasite kills 12-year-old in Florida

The CDC reports 128 known infected individuals in the U.S. between 1962 and 2012.

Zachary Reyna, the 12-year-old boy from Florida battling a rare infection, died over the weekend, reports CNN.  His parents are keeping his body on a ventilator to donate his organs.  A National Monitor article from earlier this month reported that he contracted the infection after knee boarding in a ditch near his LaBelle house on August 3, according to family member statements.  The rare infection comes from an ameba that attacks the brain, colloquially called a brain-eating parasite.  On August 12, the Glades County Health Department confirmed that Reyna’s infection had been caused by Naegleria fowleri, reports ABC News.

According to the New York Daily News, Naegleria fowleri is a microscopic, single-celled, living ameba.  It is commonly found in freshwater lakes, rivers, and ponds.  Exposure to the parasite does not necessarily mean infection.  In order to be infected, the parasite usually has to travel from the nose up to the brain.  The infection caused by the parasite is called primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM), which is debilitating and usually fatal.

The symptoms of infection can start subtly, taking one to seven days for onset.  PAM can be clinically indistinguishable from acute bacterial meningitis, reports Medscape.  Symptoms include high fever, headache, photophobia, stiff neck, nausea, and vomiting, with onset anywhere from a few hours to a couple of days after exposure.  Approximately three percent of reported cases have survived.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report 128 known infected individuals in the U.S. between 1962 and 2012, with only one known survivor.  The CDC confirms that it is a very rare infection, with exposure only from the ameba entering the body through the nose.  There are no known cases of infection as a result of drinking contaminated water.  The infection also cannot be spread from one person to another.  The CDC advises individuals to take precautions when entering the water to avoid water entering the nasal passages because that is the safest option.  Presence of the ameba is more likely at higher temperatures, so greater caution should be exercised in warmer waters.

Kali Hardig, a 12-year-old girl in Arkansas, was also infected earlier this year, reports the Huffington Post.  Doctors took extraordinary measures and Hardig appears to be only the second survivor of this rare infection.  When Hardig came to Arkansas Children’s Hospital on July 19, she presented with a severe fever.  The medical team cooled her body and reduced the swelling.  They received clearance to use a breast cancer drug as an experimental treatment.  Hardig is now able to walk and talk, but still has a long way to go in therapy.

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