A 12-year-old Arkansas girl is apparently beating a type of brain infection that almost invariably ends in death. According to the Associated Press, if Kali Hardig survives the infection, she will be one of three known people who have survived Naegleria fowleri in the disease’s entire recorded history.
The girl was diagnosed with Naegleria fowleri last month and is currently conscious and responsive. Doctors say that early intervention and new treatments helped, but the fact that Kali is still alive amazes them.
“Up to Kali’s case, there were only two reported survivors,” Dr. Mark Heulitt told the AP. “Now, Kali’s the third.”
Naegleria fowleri is an amoeba found in standing fresh water that is harmless if drunk or swallowed, but if it enters the nasal passages it can infect the brain, causing a syndrome known as primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM). PAM causes high fevers, intense headaches, nausea, vomiting, confusion, seizures, muscle pain and delirium.
Kali’s mother took her to the hospital on July 19 when the girl was running a very high fever. She told doctors that her daughter had played in the water at a central Arkansas water park a few days before she became ill.
Typically, Naegleria takes one to seven days for symptoms to manifest. There have been 130 cases reported in the U.S. since 1962. All of those patients died except one. One other patient in Mexico survived the illness, but for the rest, the affliction has been fatal.
The disease killed 10 people in Karachi, Pakistan in 2012 and in Louisiana in 2011, a man and a woman using Neti pots — a type of saline wash for clogged sinuses — contracted the disease from their tap water and died, prompting state authorities to issue a warning to people using sinus irrigation systems to use boiled or distilled water for that purpose.
CBS News reported that a 12-year-old boy named Zachary Reyna is currently battling a Naegleria fowleri infection at Miami Children’s Hospital.
The disease only survives in warm, stagnant water, making it mostly a hazard of the summer months in the southern U.S.. Reyna was diagnosed last week after swimming in a residential canal. Health officials, however, cannot say for certain where the boy was infected.
Glades County Health Department spokesperson Brenda Barnes told the Ft. Meyers, FL News-Press, “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.”
Watch AP video about this story, embedded below: