Girl contracts brain eating amoeba after swimming at Arkansas water park

Posted at 10:45 AM, Jul 30, 2013
and last updated 2013-07-30 10:45:01-04

(CNN) – A 12-year-old girl in Arkansas is in critical condition after being infected by a rare but deadly brain-eating parasite, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Kali Hardig was admitted to Arkansas Children’s Hospital about eight days ago, according to a hospital spokesperson.

Her infection was caused by a microscopic amoeba called Naegleria fowleri, which enters the body through the nose and travels to the brain. It’s usually found in people who have been swimming in warm freshwater. You cannot be infected with the organism by drinking contaminated water, the CDC says.

“This infection is one of the most severe infections that we know of. Ninety-nine percent of people who get it die,” Dr. Dirk Haselow with the Arkansas Department of Health told CNN affiliate WMCTV.

Willow Springs Water Park in Little Rock, Arkansas, is the most likely source of Hardig’s infection, according to a news release from the department of health. Another case of the same parasite, also called primary amebic meningoencephalitis, was reported in 2010, and was also linked to Willow Springs.

“Based on the occurrence of two cases of this rare infection in association with the same body of water and the unique features of the park, the ADH has asked the owner of Willow Springs to voluntarily close the water park to ensure the health and safety of the public,” the news release said.

The first symptoms appear one to seven days after infection by the amoeba, including headache, fever, nausea, vomiting and a stiff neck, according to the CDC.

“Later symptoms include confusion, lack of attention to people and surroundings, loss of balance, seizures and hallucinations,” the government agency’s website states. “After the start of symptoms, the disease progresses rapidly and usually causes death within one to 12 days.”

Getting this amoeba is extremely rare. Between 2001 and 2010, there were 32 reported cases, the CDC says. Most of the cases occurred in the Southeast.

Here are some tips from the CDC to help lower your risk of infection:

– Avoid swimming in freshwater when the water temperature is high and the water level is low.

– Hold your nose shut or use nose clips.

– Avoid stirring up the sediment while wading in shallow, warm freshwater areas.

– If you are irrigating, flushing or rinsing your sinuses (for example, by using a neti pot), use water that has been distilled or sterilized.