Summertime means fun in the sun and splashing in the water for many kids, but those who don’t have access to chlorinated pools or the saltwater of the ocean may be at risk of contracting a deadly brain-eating amoeba. In light of this serious threat, USA Today reports that Florida has issued an official public warning, becoming the first state to do so.
These stories of a brain-eating amoeba sound like they’re straight out of a horror film, but for Kali Hardig and Zachary Reyna, the danger is far too real. Both children have been infected by the amoeba, known as Naegleria fowleri, within the past two months. Kali was given an experimental anti-amoeba drug, which has played a major role in her recovery from the infection caused by the amoeba (primary amebic meningoencephalitis, or PAM). She is now on the long road to recovery. Zachary is still fighting for his life after undergoing brain surgery for his infection, and he has also been provided with the same drug administered to Kali.
According to the CDC, these two children join over 30 individuals who have been affected by this amoeba from 2003 to 2012, with only three survivors. The fatality rate of those infected is 99%.
Although Zachary is only the first child to be hospitalized with Naegleria fowleri in Florida this year, the state decided it was time to release an official warning. The Florida Department of Health notes that shallow fresh water sources with a high temperature are the perfect breeding grounds for the amoeba, so lakes, ponds, and even shallow ditches where rain water has recently collected put swimmers at risk.
To lessen your risk of inhaling the amoeba through your nose, which is the primary mode of transportation the amoeba can take to your brain, it is recommended that nose clips be used and the swimmer’s head stays above the water. The sediment at the bottom of the water should not be dug in or stirred, as this is where the amoeba live.
Be on the lookout for the symptoms of PAM, which include headache, fever, nausea, vomiting, stiff neck, confusion, lack of attention to people and surroundings, loss of balance, seizures, and hallucinations.