Brain-Eating Parasite at Water Park Infects Arkansas Girl, 12

Image: Brain-Eating Parasite at Water Park Infects Arkansas Girl, 12

Tuesday, 30 Jul 2013 12:57 PM

By Michael Mullins

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Kali Hardig, the 12-year-old Arkansas girl who contracted a deadly brain-eating parasite during a visit to a local water park, is in critical condition at Arkansas Children’s Hospital.

The rare form of meningitis, known as amoebic meningoencephalitis, is caused by an amoeba called Naegleria fowleri, which lives in lakes, rivers and hot springs. The amoeba typically enters the body through the nose as people are swimming or diving. It then travels to the brain, causing a rare but often fatal infection, according to The Associated Press.

The 12-year-old girl is believed to have been infected at the Willow Springs Water Park, which was closed July 25, the Arkansas Department of Health confirmed earlier this week.

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"Though the odds of contracting Naegleria are extremely low, they are just not good enough to allow our friends or family to swim," park owners David and Lou Ann Ratliff said in a statement published on the Arkansas Department of Health website.

"For the thousands of people who love Willow Springs, we will be taking this time to determine the feasibility of installing a solid bottom to the lake," the Ratliffs added. "We will not ever reopen as a sand bottom lake."

In 2010, the 85-year-old water park, located in Little Rock, Ark., was linked to another Naegleria infection, ABC News reported.

Early symptoms of amoebic meningoencephalitis may include headache, fever, nausea, or vomiting, according to the Arkansas Department of Health. If left untreated, individuals suffering from the deadly brain-eating parasite could suffer from loss of balance, seizures, and hallucinations.

"Swimming is a healthy summertime activity, and we do not want to discourage people from swimming," Dr. Dirk Haselow, state Epidemiologist for the Arkansas Department of Health, said in a statement.

While reassuring residents that "The risk of infection from Naegleria in Arkansas is exceedingly low," Haselow added, "If concerned about Naegleria, avoid swimming, diving or other activities that push water up the nose, especially in natural waters when temperatures are high and water levels are low."

Other tips offered on the Arkansas Department of Health on how to best prevent contracting the deadly brain-eating parasite include:

• Keep your head out of the water

• Use nose clips or hold the nose shut

• Avoid stirring up dirt or sand at the bottom of shallow freshwater areas

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