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12-Year-Old Girl in Critical Condition After Contracting Brain-eating Parasite

Jul 30, 2013 10:11 AM EDT

A 12-year-old girl from Arkansas is in critical condition after contracting a deadly brain-eating parasite.

The rare form of meningitis is caused by the amoeba Naegleria fowleri, which thrives in warm, stagnant freshwater in addition to the sediment of rivers and lakes. Though rare, once the amoeba enters the nose, it travels to the brain where it causes primary ameobic meningeoncephalitis (PAM), which is usually fatal, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

According to the health agency, only one person out of 128 infected in the United States is known to have survived the disease between 1962 and 2012.

The news comes over a week after Florida health officials began urging swimmers to steer clear of stagnant water due to rising temperatures, specifically warning against Naegleria, which, they said, love to lurk in warm water.

However, Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) spokesman Ed Barham told MailOnline that water must be forcefully pushed up a person's nose, such as in the case of diving or being dunked or using a water slide, in order to become infected.

Kali Hardig is believed to have contracted the amoeba from a sandy-bottom lake at Willow Springs Water Park in Little Rock, Ark., the ADH reports, adding that there was another case possibly derived from the place back in 2010. As a result, the department has requested that the park voluntarily close its doors in order "to ensure the health and safety of the public."

The general managers quickly complied, issuing a statement in which they said that while "the odds of contracting Naegleria are extremely low, they are just not good enough to allow our friends or family to swim."

According to The Christian Post, Hardig was rushed to the hospital by her mother just a day after the family went swimming in the local lake due to a number of alarming symptoms.

"I coudn't get her fever down," Traci Hardig told the Post. "She started vomiting. She'd say her head hurt really bad. She cried, and she would just look at me and her eyes would kind of roll."

Doctors have since put Kali into a coma in attempt to stabilize her condition, Fox News reports.

According to the CDC, other symptoms include seizures, confusion, hallucinations and a stiff neck as the amoeba makes its way from the nasal cavity to the brain. On average, infected individuals die within five days from the start of symptoms.

To avoid contracting the disease, the agency encourages those who choose to swim in warm, freshwater lakes to hold their nose shut or keep their head above water as well as avoiding stirring up sediment.

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