7-year-old Arkansas boy battling eye amoeba

DeWitt (KATV)--It's one of the rarest diagnoses, but one 7-year-old Arkansas boy is suffering from Acanthamoeba. This microscopic free-living amoeba causes severe infections of the eye, skin and central nervous system.

This amoeba is from the same strand that infected 12-year-old Kali Hardig last year.

It appeared to be just a pink eye infection, but after several doctor's visits an eye specialist confirmed the worst, Justin Ross had one-celled animals slowly eating his cornea.

"It started out being a typical pink eye, that never seemed to be getting better," said Justin's mother, Tiffani Burns.

As September passed and October approached, Burns began to realize that her son, Justin, was suffering from something far worse than pink eye.

"He cries almost every night, the pressure changes in his atmosphere makes his eye hurt, it runs nonstop out of his nose, out of his eye," added Burns.

After a trip to Baptist Hospital's Eye Center in Little Rock, Dr. Robert Berry diagnosed Justin with a case of Acanthamoeba, a free-living single-cell organism, buried in his right eye.

"Those little one-celled animals are animals, they are not bacteria. So bacteria are affected by antibiotics, animals are not. So you can't kill them with antibiotics," said Dr. Berry.

Dr. Berry said, he believes it was after Justin played in still-standing water, such as a pond, when he caught the infection. He adds, all it takes is a break in the skin of the eye for the cells to penetrate the cornea.

"You treat it, believe or not, with swimming pool cleaner, go down to your local pool store, take it to your compound pharmacy and have it made in eye drop form," added Dr. Berry.

For now, Justin isn't in school as he continues to battle this amoeba, and while Dr. Berry said, he has lost some vision in his right eye; living a normal life is still possible.

Burns said she wants to "Get the parasite gone, get his eye back, his sight back, I'd like him to be a typical 7-year-old little boys."

Justin still has 6-8 months of treatment. Down the road, Burns said if need be a cornea transplant is an option they've discussed.

An Acanthamoeba is so rare, that only one or two per million people get it. Dr. Berry said, most people who get infected are contact lens users. He suggests taking care of your lenses properly to prevent the chances of getting this infection.

Burns said medical expenses have burdened the family as they don't currently carry health insurance. Regardless, the FDA has not approved treatment for this infection. To help, a donation site has been set up for the Burns family.