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12-Year-Old Girl In Critical Condition Due to a Brain-Eating Amoeba

Update Date: Jul 30, 2013 11:39 AM EDT

12-year-old girl, Kali Hardig went swimming in a lake earlier this month without any worries. Swimming at the Willow Springs Water Park in Little Rock, AR normally would not raise any alerts or health concerns since park goers often swim in these waters. For Hardig, however, the experience soon turned into a surreal and frightening one as she started to fall ill. Hardig had contracted a rare, brain-eating parasite that has left her fighting for her life.

According to Hardig's mother, Hardig started to fall ill shortly after her swim. She was vomiting, suffering from headaches and dealing with a fever that would not break. By July 19, she was brought into the Arkansas Children's hospital where they medically-induced a coma. Since then, Hardig has been in critical condition. She was diagnosed with primary amoebic meningoencephalitis, which is an extremely rare type of meningitis caused by a parasite.

Medical professionals identified Naegleria fowleri as the source of Hardig's health condition. Naegleria fowleri is an amoeba that can only be detected microscopically. Naegleria often thrives in warm, freshwater sources and is harmless outside of the body. Once it enters the body, however, this parasite becomes extremely fatal. This amoeba accesses the brain through the nose and starts to eat away at the brain.

"Ninety-nine percent of people who get it die," said a health department official from Arkansas according to USA Today. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only one out of 128 confirmed cases of a Naegleria infection had survived in U.S. history.

There have only been five confirmed cases of this brain-eating parasite within this state between 1962 and 2012. One of the cases was actually tied to the same park Hardig frequented during the time of her infection. This case occurred in 2010 and the water park had voluntarily shut down after the department of health stepped in. The park, which has existed for 85 years, has now been closed.

"Though the odds of contracting Naegleria are extremely low, they are just not good enough to allow our friends or family to swim," the park owners, David and Lou Ann Ratliff expressed in a statement.

Since this amoeba cannot be seen with the naked eye, the CDC has listed several tips for people when swimming. These tips include holding your nose shut when underwater, keeping your head above water, avoid swimming in warm, fresh waters, and avoid contacting sediments located in these shallow, freshwater regions. In the meantime, Hardig remains at the hospital hoping to come out of this nightmarish situation alive. 

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