The Florida teenager who is fighting for his life after being infected with a rare brain-eating amoeba has already beaten the odds by surviving a month.
The median time to survive infection with Naegleria fowleri, the scientific name for the amoeba, is just five days, and the disease it causes, primary amoebic meningoencephalitis, is fatal 97 percent of the time, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control. .
“Only four of the 154 infected individuals in the United States survived from 1962 to 2021,” the agency says.
Caleb Zigelbauer, 13, is believed to have contracted the amoeba when he went swimming on July 1 in Port Charlotte Beach, 100 miles south of Tampa, Florida.
Amoebas are found all over the world, but the CDC says they thrive in high water temperatures and low water levels. Although this infection remains rare, these are exactly the conditions that have been found across the United States this summer, with heat waves and droughts hitting many states.
It is found in warm fresh waters, such as lakes, rivers, and hot springs, and can appear even in poorly maintained swimming pools. It cannot live in salt water and cannot spread from one person to another.
Infection occurs mainly in July, August and September, and while it is more likely in the south — Florida saw 36 cases between 1962 and 2021 and Texas 40 — some northern states, notably Minnesota, famous for its lakes, have seen two cases. cases. No cases have been reported in New York or neighboring states in the Northeast.
Caleb has been taken off blood pressure and other medications, and while he’s still on a ventilator, his breathing is picking up steam, his aunt Katie Chet posted on a GoFundMe page to raise money for the teen’s treatment.
Initial samples of spinal fluid he sent to the federal Centers for Disease Control tested negative for Naegleria Fowleri, but doctors at Golisano Children’s Hospital in Fort Myers, where he is being treated, said that was the likely cause of his injury, according to local reports.
Caleb’s breakthrough came when a second person, a Missouri who was injured after swimming in Iowa Lake, died from the bug earlier this month. Last year, at least two children in the United States died from this infection, one in North Carolina and one in Texas.
The big challenge in amoeba cases is getting the correct diagnosis – it can take weeks before the amoeba is identified, often too late for the infected victim. But until then, there is no specific treatment for the infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.