CREATED Aug. 16, 2013
LABELLE, Fla. - Twelve-year-old Zachary Reyna remains in the fight for his life against a deadly brain infection. This is the seventh case in Florida in the last 10 years. And because the parasite lives everywhere there's fresh water, health officials want to help minimize your risk.
In a city of just under 5,000 people, prayer can be powerful. Many are uniting for Zachary Reyna, the 12-year-old LaBelle boy battling a brain-eating infection at Miami Children's Hospital.
"We're just praying that he'll get better and hopefully he gets better," said Lizbeth Lopez, 15, from LaBelle High School. "We have faith."
"It's terrible, terrible very tragic," said Stephen Dechert, who was visiting the city.
Two weeks ago, friends say Zachary contracted the disease, known as parasitic meningitis. He was knee-boarding in a ditch near his home, when the parasite entered his body and attacked.
"People are asking about their risk," said Dr. Celeste Philip, with the Florida Department of Health.
Health officials says that risk is highest in the summer months. The invasive amoeba live in soil in fresh water lakes and rivers. When that soil is disturbed, it increases the risk of exposure.
"We know the amoeba is everywhere, wherever there's fresh water, it's likely that it's present," explained Dr. Philip.
It's why health officials are emphasizing ways to stay safe.
"It takes the affected water entering into the nose of someone and causing the infection," said Dr. Philip.
Doctors recommend taking precautions. The best way is to keep your head above water. But if you go under, hold your nose or use a nose clip and don't stay there for too long.
"Unfortunately there's not a good way to predict, if you have people that do the same activity, why one person becomes sick and the others don't," said Dr. Philip.
They're frightening thoughts for any community, especially one as close as LaBelle's.
"It's terrifying to me," said Tina Dechert, who was visiting the city. "We have a grand baby coming so to me it's pretty scary."
Accoring to a Facebook prayer page for Zachary, he's in critical condition. Friends describe him as a good kid, who loves baseball and is really great at the sport.