The two reported cases of kids in the U.S. contracting the Naegleria fowleri parasite this summer has parents around the country wanting to know more about the often fatal brain-eating amoeba.
First, 12-year-old Kali Hardig of Arkansas contracted Naegleria fowleri in late July, probably at a local water park. Then another 12-year-old, Zachary Reyna, from Florida got sick in early August
after kneeboarding in a water-filled ditch.
With the help of an experimental anti-amoeba drug from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Hardig was recently moved from critical condition to a rehabilitation center to begin her recovery.
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Reyna, however, remains in the intensive care unit at Miami Children's Hospital after undergoing brain surgery. He, too, has been given Impavido, the experimental medication.
The brain-eating amoeba is usually found in in hot springs and warm, fresh water and works its way up the nose into the brain, according to CNN
. It's extremely rare, with only 32 reported cases between 2001 and 2010, the CDC reported. Of the 128 known cases in the past half-century, only two people survived the infection.
A person will begin to experience symptoms one to seven days after becoming infected with the brain-eating amoeba, including headache, fever, nausea, vomiting, and a stiff neck, according to CDC epidemiologist Jonathan Yoder.
"Between exposure and onset, infection generally results in a coma and death after around five days," Yoder told National Geographic.
The new cases of Naegleria fowleri infection don't necessarily mean that the brain-eating amoeba is becoming more common. It's more likely a signifier that it's on the move.
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"We don't have data that says infection from Naegleria fowleri is becoming more common. In the last few years there have been four to five cases per year," Yoder said. "What has changed recently is that cases have appeared in places we had never seen before — like Minnesota, Indiana, and Kansas. This is evidence that the amoeba is moving farther north. In the past it was always found in warmer weather states."
To prevent infection, the CDC urges people to hold or plug their noses while swimming in warm, untreated waters.
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