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Fla. boy infected with "brain-eating" amoeba

Florida Department of Health officials have confirmed that a 12-year-old boy has been infected with the "brain-eating" amoeba, Naegleria fowleri.

State officials told in a statement that a patient was suffering from primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM), a rare, typically fatal brain infection caused by an amoeba called Naegleria fowleri.

"The effects of PAM on the individuals who contract the amoeba are tragic," said Dr. Carina Blackmore, Florida Department of Health interim state epidemiologist, said.

The News-Press in Ft. Meyers, Fla. identified the victim as Zachary Reyna. Friends and family members said the boy was taken to Miami's Children's Hospital this past weekend because of increasing flu-like symptoms.

His family said Tuesday on a Facebook page that Zachary is still battling the infection.

"Doctors are saying things have not changed. We are still strong on our end because we know God will step in when He is ready. Keep praying. I feel this is much bigger than my Zac," Zachary's parents wrote.

Naegleria fowleri is commonly found in bodies of fresh water. If the amoeba enters through the nose, it can cause an infection that causes the brain to swell, known as meningitis. Death usually occurs in 99 percent of cases.

The organism thrives in warm water up to 115 degrees Fahrenheit, which is why it is commonly found in the summer months in the southern United States. People cannot become infected with Naegleria fowleri if they drink water that contains the amoeba or if they are swimming in water that is cleaned, maintained and disinfected.

PAM symptoms start around one to seven days after inhaling the amoeba nasally, and include headache, fever, nausea and vomiting. The patient may also have a stiff neck, confusion, display a lack of attention to people and surroundings, have a loss of balance, seizures and hallucinations. The infection is usually fatal around five days after the first signs of symptoms.

These infections are extremely rare. In the decade between 2003 and 2012, 31 infections were reported in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Twenty-eight of those happened to people who were in recreational water, and three were more than likely infected after they performed nasal irrigation with neti pots contaminated tap water.

Recently reported cases of PAM in the U.S. include a 9-year-old Minnesota boy who was swimming in a freshwater lake prior to his Aug 2012. death.

This past July, Arkansas health officials confirmed that a 9-year-old Arkansas girl named Kali Le Ann likely contracted the microbe at a water park. Her mother wrote on her Facebook page on Monday that Kali had recently written her name and was slowly recovering.

Arkansas 12-year-old in critical condition fr... 01:37

Friends believe that Zachary may have contracted the amoeba from playing in a LaBelle residential canal, News-Press reported. Two other children who were playing with Zachary at the canal did not contract the infection. But, while Health Department in Glades County confirmed that a patient had the infection, they said they did not know where he got it from yet.

"There's really no way to pinpoint the water or soil source because it's naturally occurring," spokeswoman Brenda Barnes told News-Press.

Naegleria fowleri infections can be prevented by keeping the head out of water, using nose clips or holding the nose shut while swimming in warm freshwater lakes and other similar types of water. People should also avoid stirring up dirty or sand at the bottom of shallow, fresh water areas.

"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," Blackmore said. "If you are partaking in recreational swimming activities during this time, please take necessary precautions and remind your family and friends to do the same."

If you are going to use nasal irrigation, disinfect the water first by boiling it for one minute or using distilled or sterile water. You can also filter the water using a device with an absolute pore size of 1 micron or smaller.

TheCDC has more information on PAM and Naegleria fowleri.

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