CDC: No brain-eating amoeba detected in Florida teenager

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — A Florida teenager is fighting for his life in the hospital, and while his family believes he was infected with brain-eating amoeba, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said its tests did not show the bacteria present.

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In a statement to WBBH, the CDC said that it tested two samples of cerebrospinal fluid from Caleb Ziegelbauer, and did not detect any Naegleria fowleri in either sample.

A spokesperson for the Florida Department of Health told NBC News that they could not comment on Ziegelbauer’s case, citing privacy laws, but said that the last confirmed case of Naegleria fowleri was in 2020.

Original report:

Caleb Ziegelbauer, 13, was visiting Port Charlotte Beach on July 1 with his family and went swimming. A week later, he had sudden headaches and was experiencing hallucinations, WBBH reported.

Caleb’s parents rushed him to an emergency room, where doctors told them that Naegleria fowleri — also known as the “brain-eating amoeba”— had infected their son’s brain, Today reported.

Naegleria fowleri is a single-celled organism, found in warm freshwater, that can attack the brain and can cause a deadly infection. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, while you cannot be infected with the bacteria from drinking water, infection can happen when contaminated water goes up into your nose.

An online fundraiser for Caleb was last updated July 24 to say that the teenager was experiencing seizures and needed a blood transfusion.

“He’s just the kindest soul but he’s so strong,” Elizabeth Ziegelbauer, Caleb’s Aunt, told WBBH. “He’s so strong. Like the fighting on the outside, that’s what we’re doing. He is fighting his little heart out on the inside.”

Doctors were delayed initially in diagnosing Caleb, because the infection can present as if a child has meningitis, WBBH reported.

“All we can do is hold onto hope because we know he’s going to fight through this,” Ziegelbauer told WBBH. “He will.”

Only four of 154 people known to be infected with the bacteria in the United States from 1962-2021 recovered, according to the CDC.

A Missouri resident was treated for an infection from Naegleria fowleri after swimming at an Iowa beach in early July, as we reported at the time. The beach where the swimmer was infected was shut down temporarily as a precaution.

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