Brain-Eating Warning: Florida Cautious as Rare Amoeba Sickens Boy

Friday, 16 Aug 2013 07:30 AM

By Clyde Hughes

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A warning cautioning Florida residents about a rare brain-eating amoeba has been issued by state health authorities as a 12-year-old LaBelle boy fights for his life against the parasite.

Zachary Reyna remained in the intensive care unit of Miami Children's Hospital Thursday as his family kept a vigil by his bedside, according to Fort Myer's WBBH-TV. Family members believe the boy contracted the parasite while knee boarding in a ditch by his house.

The brain-eating warning in Florida is the result of Naegleria fowleri, a microscopic single-celled living amoeba that can cause a rare infection of the brain called primary amebic meningoencephalitis, or PAM, that destroys brain tissue and is usually fatal, according to a state health department statement. The department said the amoeba is commonly found in warm freshwater such as lakes, rivers, ponds and canals.

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If Reyna survives, according to WBBH-TV, he will become only the fourth person to ever overcome the brain-eating amoeba. The boy is the second case of the brain-eating amoeba reported this year.

In West Memphis, Ark., the Center for Disease Control confirmed in July that Kali Hardig, 12, was suffering from the amoeba as well, reported WMC-TV.

"This infection is one of the most severe infections that we know of. Ninety-nine percent of people who get it, die," Dr. Dirk Haselow, of the Arkansas Department of Health, told WMC-TV.

Just 150 cases have ever been confirmed in the United States. The amoeba enters the body through the nose and travels to the brain where it destroys brain tissue.

Hardig's condition, though, is improving, according to CNN, which is giving Reyna's family cause for optimism.

"We continue to be amazed by Kali's progress," her family said in a statement to CNN on 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."

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Her attending physician, Dr. Vikki Stefans at Arkansas Children's Hospital's Progressive Rehab Unit, told CNN that "Kali's progress is definitely a credit to her wonderful family and support system. There is no longer a question of whether she'll survive and do well, but just how well."

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