Zachary Reyna: Brain-Eating Amoeba Strikes Again


Home / Zachary Reyna: Brain-Eating Amoeba Strikes Again
This brain-eating amoeba has a fatality rate of 99 percent. Image by the CDC.

This brain-eating amoeba has a fatality rate of 99 percent. Image by the CDC.

Young Zachary Reyna is the latest victim of the brain-eating amoeba which is striking from warm still water sources in the United States.

This rare and usually fatal infection caused by Naegleria, a single-cell amoeba that we commonly find in warm fresh water such as lakes, rivers, hot springs, ditches, and soil.

Naegleria fowleri is the only type of amoeba that can infect humans. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that there have been 31 infections from 2003 to 2012; making your risk of contracting this brain-eating amoeba very low.

However, in recent weeks, two children have contacted this potentially deadly infection.

Naegleria fowleri: What Is It?

Naegleria fowleri amoebas infect the body through the nose, like when you go swimming or diving in water. You cannot become infected with the amoeba by drinking the water; however there have been reports of naegleria fowleri in people who have used neti pots to clear out their sinus if they used contaminated tap water – just as acanthamoeba attacks eyes via tap water.

Poorly-maintained swimming pools can also be a source of contamination as well as hot water heaters. According to the CDC, naegleria fowleri grows best when water temperatures reach 115 degrees, but can survive at higher temperatures for shorter amounts of time.

Naegleria fowleri causes the primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM) – a disease that destroys the brain tissue and is 99 percent fatal.

Symptoms of PAM start between one and seven days after infection and can include, headache, fever, nausea, and vomiting. Later symptoms include stiff neck, confusion, lack of attention to people and surroundings, loss of balance, seizures, and hallucinations.

Once the symptoms begin, the disease progresses quickly and death occurs within one to twelve days, with an average of five days. Unfortunately there is no treatment for this amoeba that is guaranteed to work, even if the treatment worked on another patient.

The amoeba enters through the nose and attacks the brain tissue. Image by the CDC

The amoeba enters through the nose and attacks the brain tissue. Image by the CDC

Brain-Eating Amoeba Cases

This year there have been two cases of Naegleria fowleri, a 12 year-old girl from Arkansas and a 12 year-old boy from Miami, Florida.

According to FOX News, Kali Hardig of Arkansas is only the third survivor of this deadly infection. She was admitted to the Arkansas Children’s Hospital  on July 19, 2013 for a high fever and vomiting after swimming in Willow Springs Water Park in south Little Rock.

Kali’s condition is now stable and she is responsive after being on a ventilator for weeks. Doctors credit early detection and experimental treatments for her survival – they cooled down her body to 93 degrees, hoping to prevent the damage from occurring further in her brain and she responded well.

The experimental drugs included anti-fungal medications that worked in the only other two surviving cases in 1978 and in 2003. They also tried another experimental drug that was initially used for breast cancer treatment, and after a few days of use, there were no signs of the amoebas.

However, the drug is not approved by the FDA and doctors had to get an emergency “Investigational New Drug” request approved from the CDC. The drug has worked on Kali, but not on a boy who also had the deadly infection three years ago. Kali currently can answer questions by either giving a ‘thumbs up’ or shaking her head to say “yes” or “no.”

According to her Facebook Page, Prayers for Kali Le Ann, she is beginning to write her name and notes like, “Kali Hardig loves Daddy.”

The most recent case, a 12 year-old boy near Miami, Florida, named Zachary Reyna contracted the infection while knee-boarding in a ditch near his home. Zachary is in intensive care at the Miami Children’s Hospital. Zachary’s condition has not changed; his doctors have been talking with Kali’s’ doctors about her successes in hopes of having the same results with Zachary.

Primary Amebic Meningoencephalitis

Primary amebic meningoencephalitis is a rare disease that attacks quickly. Early detection and treatment can be key in surviving this disease. Kali and Zachary have a huge fight ahead of them and statistics are against them; however, their families are by their sides and a great team of doctors are doing all that they can to save these two 12 year-olds.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Naegleria fowleri: primary amebic meningoencephalitis. Updated May 15, 2013. Accessed August 16, 2013.

Miami Herald. Boy, 12, fighting rare “brain eating” amoeba at Miami Children’s Hospital. August 13, 2013. Accessed August 16, 2013.

NBC News. Brain-eating amoeba remains rare and deadly. August 15, 2013. Accessed August 16, 2013.

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