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Florida boy battling rare brain infection caused by amoeba

| Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

LABELLE, Fla. — Health officials in Florida said on Tuesday that a 12-year-old boy is fighting a rare and deadly infection that is attacking his brain.

Family members told media outlets that Zachary Reyna of Southwest Florida was infected with Naegleria fowleri, a microscopic single-celled living amoeba that is commonly found in freshwater lakes, ponds and rivers.

It can cause a rare brain infection called primary amebic meningoencephalitis that destroys brain tissue and is usually fatal, the Florida Department of Health said in a news release. State officials confirmed the boy is battling the disease.

“The effects of PAM on the individuals who contract the amoeba are tragic,” said Dr. Carina Blackmore, Florida's interim state epidemiologist. “We want to remind Floridians to be wary when swimming, jumping or diving in fresh water when water temperatures are high and water levels are low. If you are partaking in recreational swimming activities during this time, please take necessary precautions and remind your family and friends to do the same.”

Infections from the amoeba are rare.

Florida officials cited federal statistics showing that 28 infections were reported in the United States from 2003 to 2012, mostly from exposure to contaminated recreational water. A person cannot be infected with the amoeba by drinking contaminated water, state officials said, and the amoeba is not found in salt water.

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