Family: Fla. boy beats "brain-eating amoeba," but suffered brain damage

A close up photograph of Naegleria fowleri, an amoeba that is known to attack the central nervous system. CDC's Public Image Library

MIAMIAnother child may have survived the deadly brain-eating amoeba, Naegleria fowleri.

A Wednesday post on a Facebook page set up for Fla. 12-year-old Zachary Reyna said doctors told the family the amoeba is gone, and antibiotics beat the infection it caused, primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM).

"We were told this morning that the antibiotics have defeated the infection," read the Aug. 21 Facebook post. "Tests showed negative activity from the amoeba. This is a small victory but we know the battle is not over."

The post on the "Pray4Number4 - Zachary Reyna" page added that the boy has suffered extensive brain damage and the family is waiting for any signs of neurological activity.

Zac's news comes on the heels of another report of a child surviving the often deadly infection.

On Wednesday, the family of 12-year-old Ark. girl Kali Hardig, alsoannounced she had cleared the amebic infection. Kali had contracted the microbe in July from what officials believed was the Willow Springs Water Park in Little Rock. The park is on a lake that has a sandy-bottom; Naegleria fowleri can be found in sediment where it feasts on other bacteria.

PAM infections are rare and almost always deadly because they destroy brain tissue, causing severe swelling. There have been 128 known infected individuals in the U.S. from 1962 to 2012, with only one documented case of survival, prior to these latest reports. A patient in Mexico also reportedly survived the infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Florida health officials cited federal statistics showing that 28 infections were 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. There have also been documented cases of people contracting the amoeba from contaminated water in Neti pots used for nasal irrigation.

Reyna's family members said the boy was infected while knee boarding with friends in a ditch near his family's LaBelle home on Aug. 3. He is being treated in the intensive care unit at Miami Children's Hospital. Hospital officials weren't commenting on Reyna's condition Wednesday.

Experts say the amoeba gets up the nose and travels to the brain where it causes PAM. It's a medical mystery why some people who swim in amoeba-containing water get the fatal infection while many others don't.

Initial symptoms usually start within one to seven 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.

State officials said people can reduce the risks of becoming infected by limiting the amount of water going up the nose, avoiding water-related activities in warm freshwater when temperatures are high and water levels are low, and avoid digging in or stirring up sediment while in shallow, warm freshwater areas.

As for Kali Hardig, her mother said Wednesday that she is able to say words like "yes," "no," "mama" and "daddy," and can walk across her Ark. hospital room with support.

Her mother Traci told USA Today Wednesday that she communicates with the Reyna family, and her daughter's case has given them hope.

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