Health officials say 12-year-old Kali Hardig is alive and responsive after being diagnosed last month with an infection caused by a brain-eating amoeba. The amoeba usually enters the body through the nose when people are swimming where the water is warm, like lakes and rivers.
"It affects the brain and spinal cord and destroys brain tissue and brain cells, and the body's reaction to that is to cause brain swelling," said Dr. Jennifer Cope of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Officials at the CDC say the infection is extremely rare; there have only been about 130 cases in the U.S. since the 1960s. And it's almost always fatal.
"The fact that the Arkansas girl is still alive is remarkable because she would be only the second U.S. survivor," Cope said.
A 12-year-old Florida boy, Zachary Reyna, is also fighting for his life after becoming infected with the amoeba. Friends say he got sick earlier this month after playing in a ditch near his home.
"I just wish I could do something. Praying is all I can do. I can't do anything else. I just wish I could take it away, but I can't," said Zachary Price, a friend of the boy.
Symptoms can include headache, fever, nausea and vomiting, followed by a stiff neck, confusion, hallucinations and seizures.
Health officials say there are some ways to reduce your risk.
"Avoiding water-related activities during periods of high water temperature and low water levels. You can hold your nose or wear nose clips," Cope advised.
It's also best to avoid digging in and stirring up the sediment in warm, shallow, fresh water.
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