08/13/2013 10:17 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Zachary Reyna, Florida Boy, Fighting Brain-Eating Amoeba (VIDEO)

A South Florida boy is fighting for his life after a seemingly harmless day in the water last week.

Zachary Reyna, a seventh grader, was knee-boarding in ditch water near his house outside of Fort Myers, when he contracted Naegleria fowleri, brain-eating amoeba, through his nose. Watch the WSVN video above.

When Reyna slept the whole day and night, relatives told the news station "We said, 'Oh, he just has a virus. He just has one of those 24-hour viruses.'"

But in fact Miami Children's Hospital doctors say the teen is suffering from primary amoebic meningoencephalitis (PAM), in which a parasitic organism destroys brain tissue and causes swelling.

Two others with Reyna did not get sick, a mother whose son was also in the water that day told News Press.

The infection is very rare. Center For Disease Control officials say there have been only 128 people infected with PAM since 1962. And although the outlook isn't good -- only three have survived -- another 12-year-old's fight with the disease should give Reyna's family hope.

Kali Hardig, 12, is slowly recovering after contracting the brain-eating amoeba from an Arkansas spring in July.

Hardig's mother posted a message about Reyna on the Prayers For Kali Facebook page:

Kali and I are asking for you all to add Zachary to your prayers. Zachary is a 12 year old boy in FL battle the same thing Kali has. We want prayers 4 # 4 !!!! You got this!!!! Kali's Krew loves you and is supporting you all the way!! Slow and steady wins the race!

Why the two rare cases within weeks of each other? Infections peak in the summer months when water levels are low and water temperatures are high.

"Most of the cases occur in what we call the southern-tier states, and, in fact, about 50 percent of cases have occurred in Texas and Florida," Dr. Jennifer Cope, medical epidemiologist at the CDC, said.

The CDC notes that the amoeba can be found in freshwater lakes and rivers, hot springs, and warm water discharge from industrial plants.

The center recommends diminishing risk by limiting water contact with nose (hold nose shut, use nose clips, or keep head above water), avoid water-related activities in warm freshwater during periods of high water temperatures and low water levels, and avoid stirring up bottom sediment in shallow, warm freshwater areas.

There have also been cases from use of Neti pots, in which contaminated water is used to irrigate the nose.



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