A schoolgirl is fighting for her life after contracting an extremely rare brain-eating parasite while swimming in a river.
Lily Avant, from Texas, has been in a coma since September 8 following a rapid deterioration of her condition.
The young girl is thought to have contracted the rare Naegleria fowleri parasite – also known as the ‘brain-eating amoeba’.
The bug is known to cause a sudden and severe – and sometimes fatal – brain infection called naegleriasis.
The micro-organism is usually found in bodies of warm freshwater, such as lakes, rivers, ponds and hot springs.
After typically entering through a swimmer’s nose, the parasite then travels to the brain, where it ‘eats’ neurons. A person infected with Naegleria fowleri cannot pass it on to another person.
It is not possible to be infected by the micro-organism if it enters through the mouth.
According to local reports, Lily has now been in Fort Worth Hospital for six days.
The youngster has now been in Fort Worth hospital for several days.
Her father John Crawson told Today reporters: “We hope we got to her in time. She is a fighter. She is stronger than anybody I know.”
Little Lily’s family held a vigil on Friday evening.
In its early stages, symptoms of Naegleria fowleri infections are similar to bacterial meningitis .
Lily’s cousin, Wendy Scott told KXAS : “The water is in Lily’s backyard. She has swum in there day in, day out. The day she was in there, we had 40 people in there with her.
“They got it checked out. There were several viruses going around the school. It was assumed it’s a virus because the symptoms are exactly the same, so she was sent home.
“She was brought into the emergency room on Tuesday when she woke up unresponsive. She was eyes open, she was there, but she wasn’t speaking. Nothing.
“We thought if the water is flowing, it’s safe, but that’s clearly not the case.”
Ms Scott added: ‘We’re at the point where the doctors have exhausted their resources. Lily is still fighting, she’s still saying strong.
“We’re just waiting for God to step in and perform a miracle. She is in stable condition, she is still in the ICU at this time, and that’s basically where we’re at. We just need lots of prayers.”
A spokesperson for the Texas Department of State Health Services said: “We average less than one per year in Texas.
“However, it is extremely serious and almost always fatal. Since it’s so rare, we don’t know why a few people get sick while millions who swim in natural bodies of water don’t.”
Lily’s mum Laci Avant wrote on Facebook : “I don’t have the words to tell you all how much we appreciate every single one of you.
“We thank you all for every single thing that everyone has been doing to help us fight this fight.
“We are truly blessed to have so many people fighting along with us for our baby girl.”
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Updating the thousands of members of the #Lilystrong Facebook group, Ms Scott said that doctors told the family that they are “at a point that there is nothing more to do on their part”.
She added: “Our problem is that we don’t have enough medical experience with this parasite because lives are lost so quickly.”