By Deborah Netburn
4:25 PM EDT, July 30, 2013
The "brain-eating amoeba" may sound like the gruesome concoction of a comic book writer, but unfortunately, it is all too real.
Twelve-year-old Kali Harding was the latest person to be infected by the amoeba earlier this month, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed. Now, Harding is in a medically induced coma at the Arkansas Children's Hospital where doctors battle to save her life.
The brain-eating amoeba's scientific name is Naegleria fowleri. It is a common amoeba, or single-celled organism, that thrives in warm bodies of freshwater like lakes and rivers. It can also be found in hot springs, poorly treated swimming pools, and water heaters.
It lives all over the world, but here in the U.S. it is most frequently found in the southern United States.
Harding was likely infected while swimming at Willow Springs Water Park in Little Rock, CBS News reports.
The amoeba is only dangerous when it enters the body through the nose--usually when a person is swimming or diving in water where it lives.
You cannot get sick by drinking water with the amoeba in it, but there have been three reported cases of people who were infected after filling their neti pots with contaminated tap water.
Once the amoeba enters the body through the nose, it travels up through the olfactory nerve until it reaches the brain. There, it destroys brain tissue, causing swelling, and usually, death. The disease associated with this infection is called primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM).
A person will likely experience severe headache, fever, nausea and vomiting within one week of being infected by Naegleria fowleri. Later symptoms include stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, seizures and hallucinations.
The disease progresses quickly, and usually causes death within 12 days.
And, yes, if you have been infected by the amoeba, death is almost certain. Out of 128 individuals who were infected with the disease in the United States between 1962 and 2012, only one survived, according to the CDC.
If all this is freaking you out, try to remain calm. Infection from the brain-eating amoeba is extremely rare. In the U.S., only 31 cases were reported between 2003 and 2012.
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