Brain-Eating Amoeba: 12-Year-Old Florida Boy Zachary Reyna Contracts Deadly Naegleria Fowleri Infection While Playing In Water-Filled Ditch

By Philip Ross on August 14, 2013 11:45 AM EDT

brain eating amoeba
A brain eating amoeba has infected 12-year-old Zachary Reyna, a Florida boy who contracted the disease while playing in a water-filled ditch. (Photo: Facebook/pray4number4)

A brain eating amoeba has infected a 12-year-old boy in Florida just weeks after a girl in Arkansas contracted the same deadly infection. Seventh-grader Zachary Reyna is in the hospital with primary amebic meningoencephalitis, or PAM, a rare and fatal brain infection caused by a brain eating amoeba called Naegleria fowleri.

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According to CNN, Reyna most likely contracted the brain eating amoeba while knee boarding with his friends in a water-filled ditch near his home earlier this month. He reportedly slept the entire next day.

"We said, 'Oh, he just has a virus. He just has one of those 24-hour viruses,'" Zachary's brother, Brandon Villarreal, told Fox News. "He slept all day, all night, and that's when my mom was like, 'Okay, something's not right.'"

The family took Zachary Reyna to the hospital, where a brain analysis showed the 12-year-old indeed had primary amoebic meningoencephalitis caused by the brain eating amoeba. He is now in the intensive care unit at the Miami Children's hospital.

In a Facebook post on a page called Pray4Number4 - Zachary Reyna, Zachary's parents said on Tuesday:

Zac is still fighting. 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 know everything will turnout alright. This is God's plan and I just have to be patient. Thank you all for your support and please continue to pray for my family.

Naegleria fowleri is a single-celled organism found all over the world, usually in warm or tepid freshwater lakes, rivers and hot springs. It enters the body through the nose, where it travels to the brain. This causes the diseases primary amibic meningoencephalitis, or PAM, which destroys brain tissue and causes the brain to swell. Eventually, PAM leads to death.

Brain eating amoebas are extremely rare. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that between 2003 and 2012, Naegleria fowleri infected just 31 people in the U.S., almost all of who got the disease by swimming in contaminated recreational water. Of the 128 people known to have been infected with the brain eating amoeba in the U.S. since 1962, only one person has survived.

Symptoms of Naegleria fowleri infection are mild at first and include headache, fever, nausea vomiting and stiff neck. They appear within one and seven days of exposure. These symptoms get progressively more serious, leading to confusion, lack of attention to people and surroundings, loss of balance, hallucinations and seizures.

The brain eating amoeba causes death within just five days.

In July, a 12-year-old girl in Arkansas also contracted the dangerous brain eating amoeba. IScience Times reported that doctors put Kali Hardig into a medically-induced coma after she contracted the infection at Willow Springs Water Park in Little Rock.

She is currently in rehab, according to CNN, and is showing promising signs of recovery, given the nearly 100 percent fatality rate of the brain eating amoeba.

Read more from iScience Times:

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

Amoeba May Offer Key Clue to Photosynthetic Evolution

Neti Pots Can Transmit Brain Eating Amoebas

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