10-year-old Texas girl dies after contracting brain-eating amoeba, family says

Because of the rarity of the infection and difficulty in initial detection, about 75 percent of the diagnoses are made after the death of the patient, the CDC says.

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By Janelle Griffith

A 10-year-old Texas girl has died after she contracted a brain-eating amoeba, her family said.

Lily Mae Avant "has gone to be with Jesus," her aunt, Loni Yadon, said in a statement Monday morning.

"She fought the good fight and built an ARMY of prayer warriors around the world doing it," Yadon wrote in a Facebook post.

Lily Avant went swimming in a river over Labor Day weekend and contracted a brain-eating amoeba.Family Photo

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Lily went swimming over Labor Day weekend in the Brazos River near Waco — where her family said she contracted Naegleria fowleri amoeba, a single-celled organism also known as "brain-eating" amoeba. It is commonly found in fresh water bodies such as ponds, lakes and rivers and in soil, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About a week later, on Sept. 8, Lily started suffering from a fever, according to NBC Dallas-Fort Worth.

On Monday, Lily's aunt said the young girl "changed lives and brought unity to a divided nation."

“At this time, our baby is completely healed and in the arms of Jesus," Yadon told NBC News in a statement. "We want everyone to know we appreciate their prayers and love and support."

Because of the rarity of the infection and difficulty in initial detection, about 75 percent of the diagnoses are made after the death of the patient, the CDC says.

Symptoms usually begin one to nine days after exposure and include severe frontal headache, fever, nausea and vomiting, according to the CDC. Symptoms usually progress to a stiff neck, seizures, altered mental status, hallucinations and coma.

According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, Naegleria fowleri is almost always fatal and "can infect the brain when someone gets untreated water in their nose, usually during swimming or other water recreation."

The agency said there was a case of primary amoebic meningoencephalitis caused by Naegleria fowleri in a resident of Bosque County, but could not provide further details citing privacy concerns.

Chris Van Deusen, a spokesman for the agency, said the amoeba itself is common in natural, untreated bodies of water across the southern half of the United States, but the infection is extremely rare.

"Most years in Texas, we have zero or one case," he said. "Since it’s so rare, we don’t know why a few people get sick while millions who swim in natural bodies of water don't."

Because the organism is common in lakes and rivers, and infections so rare, the agency said it does not recommend people avoid bodies of water where someone has contracted the illness.