Parasitic Meningitis: Rare 'Brain-Eating Amoeba' Infects 12-Year-Old Girl In Arkansas

By iScienceTimes Staff on July 26, 2013 5:12 PM EDT

brain eating amoeba
A brain-eating amoeba has caused parasitic meningitis in a 12-year-old Arkansas girl. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Parasitic meningitis, a rare and sometimes fatal condition caused by a "brain-eating amoeba," has infected a 12-year-old girl in Benton, Ark.

The Centers for Disease Control confirmed that Kali Hardig became infected by Naegleria fowleri, a brain-eating amoeba found in warm freshwater which enters the body through the nose.

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

According to the CDC, in the United States, only one person out of 128 cases of parasitic meningitis has ever survived.

At the moment, though, Kali is in stable condition.

"I couldn't get her fever down," said Traci Hardig, Kali's mother. "She started vomiting. She'd say her head hurt really bad. She cried, and she would just look at me and her eyes would just kind of roll."

Hardig took Kali to Arkansas Children's Hospital in Little Rock, where doctors recognized that Kali had parasitic meningitis and put her into a medically-induced coma.

"They call her stable for the moment," Traci Hardig said, "just got to ride out all the inflammation, all the side effects that the meningitis caused."

The chance of getting parasitic meningitis from the brain-eating amoeba is very low, says the CDC. In the years from 2003 to 2012, Naegleria fowleri infected only 31 people in the U.S. Those cases were almost all caused by people swimming in contaminated recreational water. Between 1962 and 2012, the CDC says five cases were found in Arkansas.

The Arkansas Department of Health suspects that Kali became infected at Willow Springs Water Park, in Little Rock. The owners of the park, on have agreed to close the park while they investigate whether its feasible to install safeguards at the park.

The brain-eating amoeba is found in warm water, usually during the months of July, August and September, and cannot be transferred between people or from drinking contaminated water.

The CDC lists the following risk factors for getting parasitic meningitis:

While Naegleria fowleri is found around the world, in the U.S. the majority of infections have come warm freshwater in southern-tier states. The CDC lists the following environments as potentially risky:

--Geothermal (naturally hot) water, such as hot springs

--Warm water discharge from industrial plants

--Geothermal (naturally hot) drinking water sources

--Soil

--Swimming pools that are poorly maintained, minimally-chlorinated, and/or un-chlorinated

--Water heaters with temperatures less than 47 degrees celcius

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