A 16-year-old teenager in Florida has become the fourth person to survive an infection of brain-eating amoeba over the past 50 years.
Doctors at the Florida Hospital for Children in Orlando said on Tuesday, Aug. 23, that Sebastian DeLeon has survived the rare infection of the brain-eating amoeba also known as Naegleria fowleri, and continues to recover after contracting the illness earlier this month.
Critical care physician Humberto Antonio Liriano, who treated DeLeon, said the teenager is doing well and is now walking and speaking. The boy has also managed to go outside to get some fresh air.
DeLeon was taken to the hospital with severe headache on Aug. 7. Doctors already suspected of a serious infection particularly because he had early signs of meningitis. Tests of his spinal fluids revealed he had the amoeba.
Doctors believe the teen, a camp counselor, was likely exposed to the highly fatal amoeba at a freshwater lake a few days prior to his illness.
Doctors were lucky to get quick access to miltefosine, a drug from Orlando-based Profunda that shows promise in killing the amoeba. But because the drug may not quickly work to stop the damage, they decided to induce DeLeon into a coma and lower his body temperature to 33 degrees Celsius to keep the amoebas still. Liriano explained how lowering the boy's temperature could help.
"The amoeba loves warm water, and you cool it, and the amoeba becomes a cyst," Liriano said.
DeLeon was in a drug-induced coma for a while and his vital signs were monitored.
The medical team also ran daily tests to see if the amoeba had gone. After 72 hours, results indicated that the amoeba was no longer present in the boy's body, prompting doctors to remove the breathing tube. The patient seemed to be quick at recovery as he started to speak hours after he woke up.
Naegleria fowleri, a single-cell amoeba, can be found in brackish bodies of water such as freshwater lakes, ponds and rivers. It can attack the brain and gets to it through nasal activity.
The amoeba is very deadly, with fatality rate of 97 percent. Figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that there were 138 reported cases of primary amebic meningoencephalitis between the years 1962 and 2015. Symptoms of infection include headache, nausea, fever, vomiting and a stiff neck.
"I've treated amoeba cases in the past and they're all severely... fatal," Liriano said. "So this is a story we need to tell about Sebastian DeLeon."