Texas girl dies after contracting brain-eating amoeba while swimming

Lily Mae Avant "fought the good fight," her family said.

September 16, 2019, 10:44 AM

A 10-year-old girl died in a Texas hospital early Monday morning, about a week after she had contracted a rare brain-eating amoeba while swimming in a river.

Lily Mae Avant is now "in the arms of Jesus," her aunt, Loni Yadon, told ABC News in a statement.

"We want everyone to know we appreciate their prayers and love and support," Yadon continued. "Our Lily Mae changed lives and brought unity to a divided nation. It's just like her! She loved everyone, and people felt it even through a TV or Facebook. She taught us so much more than we ever taught her."

Lily spent Labor Day weekend with her family swimming in the Brazos River, which winds through their backyard in Whitney, Texas, a small city near Waco. Soon after, she came down with what seemed like a common viral infection, a headache and fever. But over the following days, she began acting strangely, according to her family.

After becoming incoherent and unresponsive, Lily was flown to Cook Children's Medical Center in Fort Worth last Tuesday. Doctors say she had contracted Naegleria fowleri, a rare but deadly amoeba that lives in warm freshwater such as lakes, rivers and hot springs. The single-celled organism typically infects swimmers by travelling through the nose and into the brain.

The fatality rate for Naegleria fowleri infections is over 97%. Only four out of 145 known-infected individuals in the United States have survived since the amoeba was first identified in the 1960s, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Lily was given an amoeba-fighting pill and was placed in a medically-induced coma in what became the fight of her life. Lily's family held out hope that she would be the fifth person to survive, but the odds were stacked against her.

"She's a fighter," Lily's stepfather, John Crawson (who the family refers to as Lily's father), told WFAA in an interview Friday night. "She's stronger than anyone I know."

PHOTO: 10-year-old Lily Mae Avant contracted a rare brain-eating amoeba while swimming in a river in Texas and died on Sept. 16, 2019.
10-year-old Lily Mae Avant contracted a rare brain-eating amoeba while swimming in a river in Texas and died on Sept. 16, 2019.
Courtesy Avant family

Chris Van Deusen, a spokesman for the Texas Department of State Health Services, confirmed to ABC News that there was a case of primary amebic meningoencephalitis caused by Naegleria fowleri in a resident of Bosque County, but couldn't provide further details on the patient due to privacy reasons.

"The amoeba, itself, is very common in natural, untreated bodies of water across the southern half of the United States, but the infection is extremely rare," Deusen told ABC News in a statement Monday. "Most years in Texas, we have zero or one case, and this is the first case this year."

It's unknown why only a few people get infected each year while millions who swim in natural bodies of water don't, Deusen said.

"Because the organism is common in lakes and rivers," he added, "we don't recommend people specifically avoid bodies of water where someone has contracted the illness."

Deusen said it's safest to swim in properly chlorinated water, but there are some precautions people can take to reduce the risk of swimming in natural bodies of water:

-Avoid water-related activities in bodies of warm freshwater during periods of high water temperature and low water levels.

-Avoid putting your head under the water in hot springs and other untreated thermal waters.

-Hold the nose shut or use nose clips when taking part in water-related activities in bodies of warm freshwater such as lakes, rivers, or hot springs.

-Avoid digging in or stirring up the sediment while taking part in water-related activities in shallow, warm, freshwater areas.

-Use only sterile, distilled or lukewarm previously boiled water for nasal irrigation or sinus flushes.

ABC News' Alyssa Pone contributed to this report.

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