Florida Teen Fighting For His Life After Contracting Brain-Eating Amoeba While Swimming During Family Beach Trip

One teenager is fighting for his life in the hospital after contracting a rare case of Naegleria fowleri, or brain-eating amoeba, following a family trip to the beach.

According to a GoFundMe page, 13-year-old Caleb Ziegelbauer caught the life-threatening infection when his family went swimming at Port Charlotte Beach in Florida on July 1. Five days later, he began to complain of a headache that was soon followed by a fever and hallucinations. His parents rushed Caleb to the Golisano Children’s Hospital in Fort Myers, where doctors first diagnosed him with meningitis and placed him in the PICU. However, the physicians later determined that the amoeba had entered his body and caused his illness. He has been in the hospital ever since. The teen’s aunt, Katie Chiet, told NBC2:

“A lot of times people don’t get to the hospital quickly enough. We’re hoping that we did. Unfortunately the Naegleria fowleri presents as if a child has meningitis.”

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She noted that it took a couple of days before the family figured out that the exposure to the water could have been the cause of his symptoms. And since July 10, the family said doctors have been following CDC protocols to treat the amoeba. Katie expressed to the outlet:

“It’s very lonely and isolating to walk this path because we don’t know where we are on any kind of timeline. It’s day 17 and Caleb is still breathing on his own. Are we in the clear? Are we on the path to healing? Are we waiting for something else to happen.”

She continued:

“We’re hoping against hope that Caleb becomes survivor #6, but we have a long road ahead of us.”

In an update shared on GoFundMe Wednesday, Katie revealed that “Caleb has had a couple of restful days,” but there was still some “increased inflammation so his medical team decided to try an induced hypothermia protocol to allow his brain to use less energy and heal.” He was “chilled to a frigid 93.5 degrees” on Monday, but his medical team is planning to rewarm him and “try to keep him fever free” at this time. Caleb also suffered from his first seizure a couple of days ago.

In case you didn’t know, Naegleria fowleri basically causes a rare and almost always fatal infection of the brain called primary amebic meningoencephalitis. According to the CDC, only five people in the US out of 154 from 1962 to now have survived the infection. People can become infected when water (typically warm fresh waters like lakes, rivers, and hot springs, or poorly maintained or minimally chlorinated pools) containing the amoeba enters the nose and migrates to the brain. Symptoms usually start one to nine days after exposure, and many people die within 18 days of showing symptoms. These include severe headaches, fever, nausea, and vomiting in the first stage. It then progresses to a stiff neck, seizures, altered mental status, hallucinations, and a coma in the second stage.

It is also hard to detect the brain-eating amoeba due to the rapid progression of the disease. On the CDC website, it states that since the amoeba is so rare, it is ultimately “unclear how a standard might be set to protect human health and how public health officials would measure and enforce such a standard.” The only way to avoid a brain-eating amoeba infection is to not participate in any activities in warm freshwater. As Florida Department of Health in Orange County spokeswoman Mirna Chamorro told People:

“Anyone that enjoys time in a body of water should cover their nose before they go in or use nose clips. As long as they don’t put their head under water, they are okay.”

We’re sending so much love and light to Caleb during this fight. If you want, you can donate to their GoFundMe for his recovery HERE.

[Image via GoFundMe]

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