Some towns in Louisiana have increased water supply testing following the death of a four-year-old boy over a brain-eating amoeba that may be tied to the water there.
Authorities believe the boy contracted the infection at a Slip-N-Slide toy in a home yard, according to Reuters. “We are testing and retesting our water to make sure it has the proper amount of chlorine to prevent contamination,” said David Peralta, president of St. Bernard Parish, where the boy was visiting when authorities believe he became infected.
“Just to be cautious, we turned off the water fountains at the elementary and middle schools,” said Doris Voitier, superintendent of St. Bernard Public Schools, according to Reuters.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also confirmed that month that the amoeba involved—Naegleria fowleri—was responsible for the death of a boy from Mississippi in early August. The boy became ill and died when visiting friends, also in the St. Bernard Parish, according to Reuters.
The CDC conducted tissue tests that revealed that the boy died from a type of encephalitis after the amoeba entered his body through his nose, attacking his brain, Reuters reported. Louisiana’s Office of Public Health investigated the circumstances that led to the boy’s death, concluding that the infection may have occurred when he was playing on Slip ‘N Slide water toy in the backyard of the home he was visiting, according to Reuters. To date, the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals has confirmed the presence of the deadly amoeba in four locations in St. Bernard Parish’s water system.
State epidemiologist Dr. Raoult Ratard said that while the amoeba is not rare, related infections are. Studies have found that Naegleria fowleri does exist “in very low numbers” in about 40 percent of water supplies in the developed world, Dr. Ratard added, according to Reuters. He said that the amoeba probably colonized in the St. Bernard water system because the chlorine level in some areas dropped below the 0.5 milligrams per liter standard that was set by the CDC, Reuters reported. Dr. Ratard pointed out that the infection occurs through the nose, not from drinking, in humans.
In the United States, from 2001 to 2010, 32 Naegleria fowleri infections were reported. Of those, 30 people suffered infections due to contaminated recreational water; two became sickened from water in a geothermal drinking water supply, according to the CDC, wrote Reuters.
Last year, we wrote about two deaths from Neti Pot infections that prompted warnings by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA), which involved Naegleria fowleri. Neti pots are popularly suggested by physicians for patients who suffer from chronic sinus infections or allergies and are small teapot-like devices designed to rinse clogged nasal passages, loosening mucus and removing debris, dust, pollen, and dirt.
The two deaths also took place in Louisiana and both people died from a rare brain infection, according to the agency, which cited tap water contaminated with an amoeba organism that infected the brain. The contaminated tap water that killed two in Louisiana contained the amoeba Naegleria fowleri.
The devices are generally safe and useful products, said Steven Osborne, M.D., a medical officer in FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH), noting that the water source is critical and that tap water that is not filtered, treated, or processed in specific ways is not safe for use as a nasal rinse.
While some tap water contains low levels of organisms—bacteria and protozoa, including amoebas—that may be safe to swallow because stomach acid kills them, the germs can remain alive in nasal passages, causing potentially serious infections, the CDC explained.