A Texas teenager who had contracted a rare brain-eating amoeba infection after swimming in a local lake has died.
14-year old Michael Riley Jr. was an honor student and star athlete who joined his team mates for a swim on August 13. The teen had qualified on 3 occasions for the Junior Olympics Track & Field program and was about to enter the freshman year of high school. The boy took a dip with his cross-country team in a lake located in Sam Houston State Park, approximately 70 miles north of Houston. It is speculated that this is how he contracted the disease.
The initial symptoms were mild, consisting in headaches and moderate fever, but they worsened within days, causing disorientation followed by a complete loss of brain function.
His family announced the boy’s death on Saturday night, `It is with a heavy heart, that we let everyone know that Michael John Riley Jr. lost his battle on this earth but won a victory for his place in the arms of our Lord Jesus Christ’.
The boy’s brain disease resulted from exposure to Naegleria fowleri, a single-celled organism that can be found in warm freshwater (rivers, hot springs and lakes). Such organisms are particularly frequent in the southern United States during summer, because they tend to multiply in very warm, stagnant water. There have been a few occasions when the amoeba was present even in swimming pools that hadn’t been properly chlorinated.
In most cases, as the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports, people get the disease when diving or swimming in infected bodies of water. The amoeba enters the body through the nose and then makes its way to the brain. It causes a serious infection named primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM) which leads to brain swelling. Drinking contaminated water does not pose any danger and the disease cannot be transmitted from one person to another.
Although amoeba occurrences tend to be rare, the infections are usually fatal. The prognosis for the disease is exceedingly grim: out of the 133 cases reported in the United States since 1962, only 2 patients have survived. The most affected states were Texas, California, Arizona, Florida and Arkansas.
It remains a mystery why some people become infected with the organism, although millions of people are exposed to it. To avoid this life-threatening disease, the Oklahoma health department warns people not to swim in water that is stagnant, cloudy and green or with a foul smell. Similarly, the Kansas health department recommends that swimmers should avoid stirring up sediments and use nose plugs while bathing in fresh water. Also, swimmers should also always keep their heads above the water in hot springs.
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