Junior Olympian Teen Fights for His Life After Suspected Infection With Brain-Eating Amoeba

Michael Riley Jr. is believed to have been infected after swimming in a lake.

ByABC News
August 25, 2015, 11:17 AM

— -- A star athlete from Texas is fighting for his life after the teen is suspected of contracting a deadly ameoba that infects the brain.

Michael Riley Jr., 14, remains at Texas Children's Hospital in Houston fighting for his life after being infected by the naegleria fowleri amoeba, according to his family's website.

The so called "brain-eating amoeba" occur naturally in fresh water and can cause irreversible damage, or even death, if they infect a person through the nose. Cases are rare, but deadly and only a handful of people are known to have survived the infection.

“When a doctor comes in teary eyes, crying you know it’s not good," Michael's mother, Cassandre Riley, told ABC News affiliate KTRK-TV in Houston, Texas.

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The Harris County Public Health & Environmental Services reported they were notified of a suspected ameoba infection August 22, but could not confirm the teen was the patient due to privacy reasons. Michael's family said they believe the teen contracted the dangerous infection on August 13 during a trip to the lake with his teammates. The teen, who has qualified for the Junior Olympics three times, and was playing in the lake alongside his new high school track teammates.

About a week later, the teen reported a headache and fever and within 24 hours he had become confused and disoriented, according to the family's website. At the hospital, his doctors quickly suspected the rare naegleria fowleri amoeba.

“Coming from a lake you wouldn’t think he’s going to the doctors office and they tell you he has a couple days to live," the teen's father, Mike Riley, told KTRK-TV.

The ameoba can infect swimmers when water travels up the nasal cavity and the organism can then enter the brain, causing inflammation and swelling. Symptoms include nausea, fever, vomiting and hallucinations, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Riley told KRTK-TV that the doctors at Texas Children's Hospital had put Michael in an induced coma, drilled a hole in his skull to reduce pressure, and cooled his body in an attempt to preserve his body functions.

Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University Medical School, said the U.S. Centers and Disease Control could also provide an experimental drug called miltefosine that is approved in other countries to treat parasitic infection.

"This drug has been used to treat and has been used to treat other parasites and other pre-living amoebas," explained Schaffner. "That’s the drug I am sure they are providing. It would be major resource available."

Schaffner said supportive care is necessary to help relieve pressure from the brain. As the ameoba damages the brain inflammation can put pressure on the organ, further damaging the structure.

"This is going to be a life-treating terribly serious, terribly sad infection," explained Schaffner.

In the U.S. between 1963 and 2013, just three people out of 132 managed to survive the infection, according to the CDC.