Rare brain-eating parasite kills Florida 12-year-old

A Florida boy has died three weeks after becoming infected with a brain-eating amoeba while playing in a water-filled ditch near his house.

A Facebook post on a page maintained by his family indicated that 12-year-old Zachary Reyna died Saturday at 1:54 p.m.

“My boy hit his homerun. One that I”;ll never forget. I”;m so proud of him,” the post said. “He left it all on the field and I can”;t ask for more.”

A second post said the boy would be kept on a ventilator so friends and family could visit him Sunday at Miami Children”;s Hospital. It also said Reyna”;s organs were strong and would be donated.

“Even though Zac has passed, he will still be saving many lives,” the post said.

On Wednesday, the family celebrated the news that doctors had declared Reyna free of infection, although he had suffered brain damage during the ordeal. Extensive damage had been done, they said, and doctors were watching for any sign of activity.

“This is a small victory,” but we know the battle is not over,” the Facebook post said.

Reyna had been infected Aug. 3 with Naegleria fowleri, a single-celled amoeba usually found in warm freshwater, typically in the southeastern United States. The amoeba can cause an often-deadly condition called primary amebic meningoencephalitis, or PAM.

Cases are rare, with 28 infections reported in the U.S. from 2003 to 2012, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

One of those was an Arizona boy who contracted PAM while swimming at Lake Havasu in Sept. 2007. The boy, Aaron Evans, was taken to Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center in Las Vegas before his death. The case caught the attention of Nevada officials, who said they did not believe the amoeba to be a danger in lakes Mead or Mohave.

At the time of Evans”; death, there was no treatment for PAM. But Reyna was treated with an experimental antibiotic not approved in the U.S. that is usually used on a case-by-case basis to treat leishmaniasis, another parasitic infection.

The CDC has expanded access to the drug after it killed the infection in the brains of both Reyna and a 12-year-old Arkansas girl who has been fighting the same infection since July 19.

Kayli Hardig contracted the infection at a now-shuttered Arkansas waterpark built over a freshwater lake, according to the Associated Press. As of Wednesday, Hardig appeared to be regaining her ability to speak.

“She”;s not speaking normal, but she is doing wonderful trying to pronounce stuff,” Kali”;s mother, Traci Hardig, told the AP.

Hardig is only the second person in the U.S. to survive the disease in the past 50 years, out of 128 known infections, according to the CDC. There has also been one known survivor in Mexico in that period of time.

The parasite enters the body through the nose and causes PAM, which destroys brain tissue. Infection typically occurs when poeple swim or dive in contaminated freshwater such as lakes or rivers. PAM is not caused by drinking contaminated water, the CDC has emphasized. The infection is not contagious.

Early symptoms start within 1 to 7 days of exposure and can include a sudden onset of fever, headache, stiff neck and vomiting. Later symptoms include confusion, lack of attention to people and surroundings, loss of balance, seizures and hallucinations.

The disease usually causes death within 1 to 12 days.

Officials say swimmers can help prevent infection by avoiding freshwater when the water temperature is high and water levels are low. Swimmers should also avoid digging in or stirring up sediment while in shallow, warm freshwater areas.

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