MIAMI (CBSMiami/AP) – A 12-year old boy from the Ft. Myers area is being treated at Miami Children’s Hospital after he contracted a rare and deadly infection that is attacking his brain.
Family members told media outlets that Zachary Reyna was infected with Naegleria fowleri, a microscopic single-celled living amoeba that is commonly found in freshwater lakes, ponds and rivers.
It can cause a rare brain infection called ‘primary amebic meningoencephalitis’ (PAM) that destroys brain tissue and is usually fatal, the Florida Department of Health said in a news release Tuesday.
“The effects of PAM on the individuals who contract the amoeba are tragic,” said Dr. Carina Blackmore, Florida’s interim state epidemiologist. “We want to remind Floridians to be wary when swimming, jumping or diving in fresh water when water temperatures are high and water levels are low.”
Infections from the amoeba are rare.
According to federal statistics, there were 28 infections reported in the U.S. from 2003 to 2012, mostly from exposure to contaminated recreational water.
A person cannot be infected with the amoeba by drinking contaminated water, state officials said, and the amoeba is not found in salt water.
Victims typically are exposed to the bug while swimming or doing water sports in warm ponds, lakes, rivers and canals during the hot summer months, mostly in the South.
Family members said the boy was infected while knee boarding with friends in a ditch near his family’s LaBelle home on Aug. 3.
Bridgette Cochran, whose son was with the boy when he likely was exposed, said two other boys playing with Zachary at the time did not get sick. She said they were playing in a channel that children frequent during rainy summer months.
Experts say the amoeba gets up the nose and travels to the brain where it causes PAM, which destroys brain tissue. It’s a medical mystery why some people who swim in amoeba-containing water get the fatal nervous system condition while many others don’t.
“The low number of infections makes it difficult to know why a few people have been infected compared to the millions of other people that used the same or similar waters across the U.S.,” Florida officials said in their news release.
Initial symptoms usually start within 1 to 7 days and may include headache, fever, nausea and vomiting. The disease progresses rapidly, and other symptoms can include stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, seizures and hallucinations.
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