Brain-Eating Amoeba Found in Water Supply

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The amoeba in the brain. Image by the CDC.

Naegleria fowleri: The amoeba in the brain. Image by the CDC.

Although the brain-eating amoeba called Naegleria fowleri is rare, it’s now in the city water supply of Mississippi.

Another child has died from this deadly threat this summer; a four-year old boy from Mississippi died after contracting the amoeba while playing on a slip-n-slide in St. Bernard parish in Louisiana, reports CNN.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have found Nagleria fowleri in the water supply of St. Bernard parish.

According to Minnesota Public Radio, this is the first time that this deadly parasite has been found in a municipal water supply.

Where Naegleria fowleri Lurks

The brain-eating, single-celled amoeba lives in the soil and warm fresh waters of lakes, rivers, and hot springs around the world. According to the CDC, the amoeba grows the best at warmer temperatures around 115 degrees Fahrenheit. Most infections occur in the southern states during the warmer months of July, August, and September.

But for the first time in the United States, officials have found Naegleria fowleri in the municipal water supply of Louisiana’s St. Bernard Parish. The CDC found samples of the amoeba in the home – even though initial tests of the parish water supply were negative.

The water did show low levels of chlorine in some parts of the water system, so as a precaution and as a preventative measure, officials are pumping extra chlorine into the water supply to kill any amoebas, according to the press release from the Department of Health and Hospitals, State of Louisiana.

The press release also noted that due to the extra chlorine in the water, it may have a slight discoloration, altered taste, and a stronger smell of chlorine, but it is safe to drink. The Department of Health and Hospitals and the CDC are working together to collect more data and will be doing additional testing; however, because this is so rare, it may take up to a month for results.

Since 2011 there have been three deaths ( including the four year old boy) that have been traced back to the water supply in Louisiana.

Primary Amebic Meningoencephalitis

Naegleria fowleri lifecycle stages. Image by the CDC.

Naegleria fowleri lifecycle stages. Image by the CDC.

Generally this dangerous amoeba lives in the water and feeds off of bacteria; however, on rare occasions it can enter a person’s nose during water activities such as swimming. Once inside the nose, Nagleria fowleri then travels to the person’s brain and causes primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM).

The infection causes the brain to swell and the brain tissue to die. The signs and symptoms of PAM begin within about five days after infection. Once signs and symptoms begin, the disease progresses rapidly and death occurs within about twelve days. There is no cure for PAM and the fatality rate is 99 percent.

The Brain-Eating Amoeba: Not Much to Worry About?

Though the fatality rate is scary, this is a rare amoeba that only infected 31 people from 2003 to 2012 in the United States, according to the CDC. Of these cases, 28 were the result of contaminated recreational water and three cases were from performing nasal irrigation (neti-pot) with contaminated water.

You cannot get this brain-eating amoeba from drinking contaminated water. According to the CDC, the amoeba reaches the brain via the olfactory nerve and through a bony plate, called the cribriform plate in the skull where it reaches the brain – so as long as you don’t get any of the contaminated water up your nose, you’ll be fine.

Resources:

Department of Health and Hospitals. DHH Confirms Death of a Child Associated with Rare Amoeba Found in St. Bernard Parish Home(2013). Accessed September 16, 2013.

Minnesota Public Radio. Deadly Amoeba Found For First Time In Municipal Water Supply. (2013). Accessed September 16, 2013.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. General Information. (2013). Accessed September 16, 2013.

CNN News. 4-year-old dies after brain-eating amoeba infection. (2013). Accessed September 16, 2013.

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