A Houston teen who appears to have contracted the amoeba, Naegleria fowleri, after jumping in a lake at Sam Houston State Park, is currently in critical condition at Texas Children’s Hospital (TCH), according to the Miracle 4 Michael GoFundMe page.

Michael Riley Jr. Image/ Miracle 4 Michael Twitter account
Michael Riley Jr.
Image/ Miracle 4 Michael Twitter account

The family of 14-year-old Michael John Riley Jr. say their child woke up with a headache and slight fever on Aug. 19, less than a week after jumping in the lake while on a church camp trip. Things got progressively worse and he was admitted to Texas Children’s Hospital (TCH) – West Campus where the diagnosis for Primary Amoebic Meningoencephalitis (PAM) was confirmed.

The parents write that an experimental drug to treat the amoebic infection was flown in from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (presumably miltefosine) and is currently being administered to Michael.

The most current update on Michael’s condition, just a few hours ago, was posted on the Miracle 4 Michael Facebook page, which stated: “Michael is till the same. Swelling is still high and they are monitoring brain activity.”

Naegleria fowleri is a relatively rare, pathogenic amoeba found in warm or hot freshwater like lakes, rivers and hot springs. It is also possible to get it from dirty unchlorinated or under-chlorinated swimming pools. This parasite is found worldwide and in the United States, it is found mainly in the southern-tier states.

People typically get it by swimming, jumping or playing in freshwater and get the water up their nose. From there the parasite travels to the brain and spinal cord and necrotizes or basically eats brain tissue. The disease is known as primary amoebic meningoencephalitis (PAM) and it has a very rapid progression. Typical symptoms may start after a day or two; headache, fever, nausea and vomiting. Later symptoms may include seizures, irrational behavior, hallucinations and finally coma and death. The course of the disease typically last about a week. Because the symptoms are very similar to bacterial meningitis, PAM may not even be considered in the diagnosis.

Fortunately, it’s a pretty rare disease, with only approximately 30+ cases in the past decade. Unfortunately, treatment is largely unsuccessful.

The CDC provides the investigational drug, miltefosine, for treatment of Naegleria and other related amoeba (Balamuthia mandrillaris and Acanthoamoeba). 

Our prayers go out to Michael and his family.

Robert Herriman is a microbiologist and the Editor-in-Chief of Outbreak News Today

Follow @bactiman63

Related: Naegleria fowleri: ‘Miltefosine is not the cure-all’ says ‘Kyle Cares’ founder

Naegleria fowleri Life Cycle/CDC
Naegleria fowleri Life Cycle/CDC