A 10-year-old Valley Mills girl Friday continued to battle a rare brain infection caused by a deadly amoeba she is thought to have contracted last weekend while swimming in the Brazos River.
State health officials were investigating the case of Naegleria fowleri while family members used social media to give updates on the girl, Lily Mae Avant, who was at Cook’s Children’s Hospital in Fort Worth.
According to a Facebook group devoted to the young girl, Lily came down with a fever Sunday, leading to tests from a family doctor and an emergency room visit.
“After hearing what they thought were sounds of Lily having a nightmare in her sleep, (her) mom quickly realized Lily was beginning the fight of her life,” the Facebook post states. “She was incoherent, unresponsive and was quickly swept up and taken to the ER.
“Upon examination she was given the treatment for bacterial and viral meningitis and (was taken by air ambulance) to Cook Children’s in Fort Worth. Her spinal tap revealed that she actually contracted a VERY rare amoeba that is aggressive with a high (fatality) rate,” the post states.
Attempts to contact the girl’s family were unsuccessful Friday. Valley Mills ISD officials were asking for donations and selling T-shirts in support of Lily at Friday night’s football game.
Bosque County public safety officials could not confirm where on the river Lily might have contacted the amoeba.
The Texas Department of State Health Services is following up with an inquiry into the case, spokesman Chris Van Deusen said Friday evening. He said the incident has not caused health officials to issue any specific warnings about area waterways.
“What we know about the amoeba is that it’s ubiquitous, it’s everywhere in natural freshwater,” he said. “It’s not a situation where we would warn people not to go into a particular body of water. ... It’s the first case we’ve seen in Texas this year. Most years it’s one or zero cases.”
Statewide, Texas had only 36 cases of the infection from 1962 to 2018, while 145 cases were reported nationwide.
It’s the second case of in McLennan County in the past year, but Van Deusen said that’s likely a coincidence. A New Jersey man, Fabrizio Stabile, died Sept. 21, 2018, a few days after contracting the amoeba at BSR Surf Resort northeast of Waco. The man’s family has sued the resort, seeking more than $1 million. The resort later installed $2 million, “state-of-the-art” filtration system approved by Texas Department of State Health Services and the Waco-McLennan County Public Health District.
Matt Phillips, Brazos River Authority government relations manager, said the girl and her family have been in BRA officials’ thoughts since the family posted about the girl. He said while the primary amoebic meningoencephalitis, or PAM, is a rare, the amoeba is not.
“That amoeba is present in pretty much all natural bodies of water,” he said. “It is not one of those things you can test for, because we know it’s there. It is a risk any time you swim in a natural body of water, so we and other water purveyors often post notices about steps you can take to protect yourself, but it is always going to be a risk no matter what.”
Contact with Naegleria fowleri, also known as the “brain-eating amoeba,” increases as temperatures rise in the summer and as water level tend to become lower or possibly stagnant.
The amoeba can infect people when contaminated water enters the body through the nose. Once the amoeba enters the nose, it travels to the brain where it causes PAM and is typically fatal, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states.
“This is a horrible tragedy when it happens to anyone, but particularly when it happens to a child as young as that,” Phillips said. “It is one of those things that is so rare that we forget it can happen.”