Brain-Eating Amoeba Discovered in Parish Water Supply

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The brain-eating amoeba that’s been the news lately has claimed the life of a 4-year-old boy in Louisiana just this last week, and now it’s been discovered in the water supply of the Saint Bernard Parish. The amoeba’s Latin name is Naegleria fowleri. It is believed by health officials that the boy got infected while he was playing on a popular summer toy, a slip ‘n slide.

The 4-year-old boy was a native of Mississippi. He was in Louisiana visiting with his family. He ingested the amoeba the only way possible to get primary amoebic meningoencephalitis, which is also known as PAM: by inhaling it through the nostrils of his nose.

According to the parish president, David Peralta, last Friday, health officials believe that the boy contracted the infection due to the “slip ‘n slide being out in the mud and the water for over a 12 or 14-hour period, in very hot conditions.”

Peralta then added that the amoeba had also been found in a toilet’s water tank, located inside of the parish home, but no evidence of any in the water supply of the parish.

Jimmy Guidry, a Louisiana state health officer, said that the “water is safe to drink” and that families should take a few “basic precautions” such as “chlorinating their pools and avoiding getting water up their noses.”

Now, after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conducted further testing, they have declared that the amoeba has been discovered in the areas of Arabi and Violet, at four different sites. According to the health department, the samples came from faucets and fire hydrants which are directly connected to parish’s water lines.

More recently, after the testing was done by the CDC, Peralta mentioned more information about the four sites: “Two sites from fire hydrants came up with the presence and two sites at water bibs, which is [are] the water faucets at people’s houses.”

Parish officials stated that, sometime after the boy’s death, the parish began adding chlorine to its water supply. These measures would continue, especially considering the results of the latest CDC tests.

J.T. Lane, the parish’s assistant secretary for public health, declared that the chlorination of the parish’s water supply will go on “until it raises chlorine residuals to recommended levels.”

In response to the findings of the CDC, on Thursday the St. Bernard Parish school system shut off the water supply to the school’s fountains.

The brain-eating amoeba thrives in water that is fresh and warm, like in canals, lakes and streams. The reason that drinking water wouldn’t pose a hazard is that the organism has to travel up the nose to get to the brain for it to result in the infection, PAM.

To this date, only three people in the world out of 128 who have been documented as being infected with the brain-eating amoeba have survived: one in Mexico, and two in the United States

The second of these two, Kali Hardig, 12, of Arkansas, left the Children’s Hospital in Little Rock earlier this week and finally got to return back to her home. She became infected at a water park that is now closed. The water park was located at an area lake.

Kali was treated by a team of doctors, and her survival was aided by her parents getting her to the hospital quickly, and by the rapid accurate diagnosis of the disease. A cocktail of experimental drugs, such as the German one called miltefosine, which she was allowed access to by the CDC in August, were also instrumental to her survival.

Zachary Reyna, 12, of Florida, who had also become infected with the brain-eating amoeba, was treated with miltefosine, just as Kali had been; but, the outcome was not as fortunate for him. At the end of July, he was disconnected from life support and passed away.

The 4-year-old boy who died didn’t have his ailment diagnosed correctly until it was too late, and he had died. Testing which finally determined that the cause of his death had been Naegleria fowleri was conducted by the CDC in Atlanta, Georrgia.

According to Dr. Raoult Ratard, the Louisiana state epidemiologist:

A child died and nobody knew why. They look at all kind of viruses and everything and the answer came that this was due to the amoeba.”

Dr. Ratard added that adding low levels of chlorine won’t work, and that “the amoeba will survive.” Higher levels are necessary to ensure that the brain-eating amoeba is killed.

Besides the precautions which the St. Bernard Parish is taking, some of the neighboring parishes have also now decided to take the precaution of doing additional water testing.

The brain-eating amoeba infection, PAM, is relatively rare. Over the last 10 years, there have only been 31 people infected by this amoeba in the United States, including two in Louisiana. Other than the four-year-old boy contracting it in the St. Bernard Parish, where it’s also been discovered to be in the water supply, the Desoto Parish was where the other person became infected and later died as a result.

Written by: Douglas Cobb

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