Boy Fights Rare Brain-Eating Infection in Miami Hospital

12-year-old Florida boy being treated at Miami Children's Hospital

By Diana Gonzalez
|  Wednesday, Aug 14, 2013  |  Updated 10:27 AM EDT
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A 12-year-old southwest Florida boy, Zachary Reyna, is fighting a rare infection that is attacking his brain. His brother Brandon Villareal spoke about his brother's sickness.

A 12-year-old southwest Florida boy, Zachary Reyna, is fighting a rare infection that is attacking his brain. His brother Brandon Villareal spoke about his brother's sickness.

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Health officials say a 12-year-old southwest Florida boy is fighting a rare infection that is attacking his brain.

Zachary Reyna is in the intensive care unit at Miami Children's Hospital. He was transferred there from Glades County after developing a rare brain infection known as PAM, which stands for primary amebic meningoencephalitis.

"It's just tough to see him like this. I wish I could just touch him and it would transfer over. It don't work like that," said his brother Brandon Villareal.

His family says Zachary had been knee boarding in a water-filled ditch by his home. Then he became very ill.

"He slept all day all night and that's when my mom said, ‘OK something's not right” said Villareal.

The brain-eating amoeba that causes this infection is commonly found in warm fresh water such as lakes, rivers, canals and ponds. This is the middle of the peak season, which runs from July through September.

The amoeba can enter through the nose into the brain. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, from 2003 to 2012 there have been 31 reported cases of PAM. Of those, 28 have been linked to recreational water, three from nose irrigation with contaminated water. These infections are more likely in Southern states but are extremely rare.

Nevertheless the CDC says you should assume the amoeba is present in warm fresh bodies of water.

The Florida Department of Health issued a news release Tuesday afternoon confirming the case.

“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," said Dr. Carina Blackmore, interim state epidemiologist.

Zachary's family has set up a Facebook page "Pray 4 Number 4," his baseball number.

At his bedside his family has been urging the boy not to give up.

"I told him it's the ninth inning, ninth inning two outs, runner on third, he's up to bat. It's his turn to hit it out. Bring the runs home so we can go home," said Villareal.

According to the CDC, out of 128 known cases since 1962 there's only been one survivor.

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