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Newlywed dies from rare brain-eating amoeba

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TEMECULA VALLEY (PIX11) — A California family is hoping to raise awareness after their loved one died from a rare brain-eating amoeba last October.

Koral Reef Pier, 20, died last October from a rare but often fatal brain-eating amoeba called balamuthia mandrillaris.

“It just eats your brain. It’s like a sci-fi movie really,” her mother, Sybil Meister, told KTLA on Tuesday.”It eats your brain until there’s nothing left.”

An amoeba can enter through an open lesion of nasal passage — and is often found at water parks, rivers, lakes and hot springs.

The family said the newly-married woman most likely contracted the amoeba during a family trip to Lake Havasu in May 2013, more than a year before she died.

Balamuthia can incubate in the body for up to two years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Once in the body, the amoeba can travel to the brain and ultimately cause something called Granulomatous Amebic Encephalitis, a severe disease that is fatal in 95 percent of cases.

Pier first started showing symptoms of balamuthia several months after the Lake Havasu trip, around fall 2013.

Her symptoms included headaches, stiff neck, nausea and vomiting. But slowly, her symptoms progressed and became much more severe of the course of year, according to her mother. She eventually became sensitive to light and heat, was partially paralyzed in her face and lost her vision.

Doctors first diagnosed her with migraines. But after a biopsy, Pier was diagnosed with deadly balamuthia. A few weeks later, she died.

Now, Pier’s family is sharing her story hoping to raise awareness about balamuthia. They are urging people planning on visiting lakes, rivers and water parks to wear nose plugs, and also avoid getting tap water in the nose.

A Facebook page has been created to raise awareness.