10-year-old girl dies of rare brain-eating amoeba contracted while swimming

Madhuri Adnal

Washington, Sep 17: A 10-year-old girl has died in the hospital, her family said in a statement on Monday, after she contracted a rare brain-eating amoeba while swimming in a Texas river.

What exactly happened to 10-year-old US girl?

The first symptoms of the infection typically appear about a week after the amoeba enters the nose. Lily Mae Avant swam in a river and lake over the Labor Day holiday weekend earlier in September, then suffered a headache and a fever the following weekend.

Her health quickly deteriorated, and she was taken to a local hospital, then transferred to Cook Children's Hospital in Fort Worth.

Her fight for life attracted support from across the United States and around the world.

The family said in a statement on Facebook that Lily Mae was "in the arms of Jesus." "Words can not begin to express how overwhelming this past week has been for our family," they said.

"We have been flooded by your love and support and feel incredibly humbled by how many lives have been impacted by our sweet and sassy Lily Mae."

What is Brain-eating amoeba?

Naegleria fowleri, also known as the 'brain-eating amoeba', is a species of the genus Naegleria, belonging to the phylum Percolozoa, which is technically not classified as true amoeba, but a shapeshifting amoeboflagellate excavata.

It is a free-living, bacteria-eating microorganism that can be pathogenic, causing a fulminant (sudden and severe) and fatal brain infection called naegleriasis, also known as primary amoebic meningoencephalitis.

This microorganism is typically found in bodies of warm freshwater, such as ponds, lakes, rivers, and hot springs. It is also found in the soil near warm-water discharges of industrial plants, and in unchlorinated or minimally-chlorinated swimming pools. It can be seen in either an amoeboid or temporary flagellate stage.

Symptoms

Naegleria infection causes a disease called primary amebic meningoencephalitis. This disease causes brain inflammation and destruction of brain tissue.

Generally beginning within two to 15 days of exposure to the amoeba, signs and symptoms of naegleria infection may include:

  • A change in the sense of smell or taste
  • Fever
  • Sudden, severe headache
  • Stiff neck
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Loss of balance
  • Sleepiness
  • Seizures
  • Hallucinations

These signs and symptoms can progress rapidly. They typically lead to death within a week.

Treatment

The core antimicrobial treatment consists of antifungal drug amphotericin B,which inhibits the pathogen by binding to its cell membrane sterols, thus leading to cell membrane disruption and pathogen death, however the fatality rate even with this treatment is greater than 95%.

New treatments are being sought. Miltefosine, an antiparasitic drug which inhibits the pathogen via disrupting its cell survival signal pathway PI3K/Akt/mTOR,has been used in a few cases with mixed results.

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