​Brain-Eating Warning: Amoebic Brain Warning In Florida

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August 16, 2013

A brain-eating parasite is breeding in high water temperatures and the Florida Department of Health has issued a warning for swimmers. The warning is for people swimming or jumping in freshwater with these conditions.

Zachary Reyna, 12, is the latest victim from this rare amoeba, called Naegleria fowleri. Zachary’s family told CNN affiliate WBBH-TV that the boy was kneeboarding with friends in a water-filled ditch by his house on August 3. He slept the entire next day.

Zachary is an active seventh-grader, his family said, so sleeping that much was unusual. His mother took him to the hospital immediately. He had brain surgery, and doctors diagnosed him with primary amoebic meningoencephalitis, according to WBBH. The family said he is currently in the intensive care unit at the Miami Children’s Hospital.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it has been in touch with Zachary’s doctors and has released the same experimental anti-amoeba drug used to treat 12-year-old Kali Hardig recently in Arkansas. The Arkansas girl is only the third person in the last 50 years to survive this deadly parasite.

Kali was infected with the same parasite a couple of weeks ago and was at Arkansas Children’s Hospital in Little Rock.

The cases are nearly always deadly, but Kali’s condition is giving the Reyna family some hope.

“We continue to be amazed by Kali’s progress,” her family said in a statement Thursday. “Today she’s able to sit up on her own, write some words on a white board and stand with assistance for very brief stretches. She’s even able to throw and catch a ball with her therapists. We are grateful for the continued prayers from Kali’s supporters, which no doubt drive her recovery.”

Her attending physician, Dr. Vikki Stefans at Arkansas Children’s Hospital’s Progressive Rehab Unit, said in a statement Thursday: “Kali’s progress is definitely a credit to her wonderful family and support system,” Stefans said. “There is no longer a question of whether she’ll survive and do well, but just how well.”

Getting Naegleria fowleri is extremely rare; between 2001 and 2010, there were only 32 reported cases in the United States, according to the CDC. Most of the cases have been in the Southeast.

Naegleria fowleri is found in hot springs and warm freshwater, most often in the Southeastern United States. The amoeba enters the body through the nose and travels to the brain. There is no danger of infection from drinking contaminated water, the CDC said.