Authorities in Florida confirmed on Tuesday that a 12-year-old boy has been infected with Naegleria fowleri, a rare “brain-eating” amoeba. The boy, identified as Zachary Reyna, suffers from primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM), a deadly brain infection caused by the amoeba.
Reyna was hospitalized over the weekend because of flu-like symptoms. Friends and family members believe he contracted the amoeba while playing in a canal, though Glade County Health Department officials aren't sure yet where he was exposed to the disease.
To raise awareness about their son's condition, Reyna's parents created on a Facebook page, which they updated on Tuesday. "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 feel this is much bigger than my Zac," the update reads.
Naegleria fowleri infections often occur from swimming in warm freshwater lakes or streams with low-water levels. According to the CDC, the single-cell organism can travel up your nose, where it multiplies and eventually begins to eat your brain. It has a 99 percent fatality rate, though it is still relatively rare; between 2003 and 2012, only 31 infections were reported in the US. But that might be changing soon, thanks to global warming.
"This is definitely something we need to track," said Michael Beach, a specialist in recreational waterborne illnesses for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"This is a heat-loving amoeba. As water temperatures go up, it does better," Beach said. "In future decades, as temperatures rise, we'd expect to see more cases."