Brain-Eating Amoeba Found Lurking in La. Water System

Officials tell residents water is OK to drink, but not to get it in their noses

By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff

Posted Aug 28, 2014 8:14 AM CDT

(Newser) – Residents of a Louisiana parish have been warned that there's an unwelcome visitor in their water supply. Routine samples taken from St. John the Baptist Parish's Water District No. 1—which provides water to more than 12,500 people—tested positive for Naegleria fowleri, a brain-eating amoeba that usually travels through the nose and into the brain, where it can cause a "devastating infection" that is usually fatal, notes the CDC. State health officials found that the district wasn't in compliance with minimum disinfectant levels set to keep the amoeba in check, reports New Orleans' Times-Picayune.

The parish is treating the tainted water supply as an emergency and conducting what's called a "chlorine burn" through the system for the next 60 days to flush the amoeba out, starting this morning, reports WDSU. Although St. John public schools are shutting off their water fountains, local health officials and the CDC stress that you can't be infected by drinking the contaminated water. "The amoeba cannot infect an individual through the stomach," a state health officer says. "Families can take simple steps to protect themselves from exposure to this amoeba, the most important being to avoid allowing water to go up your nose while bathing or swimming in a pool." So far, no illnesses in the parish have been reported from the bacteria. (Last month, a brain-eating amoeba killed a 9-year-old water-skier.)

A Louisiana water system has tested positive for a brain-eating amoeba.
A Louisiana water system has tested positive for a brain-eating amoeba.   (Shutterstock)
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