A brain eating amoeba has been found right outside New Orleans, in the tap water of St. Bernard Parish, the coastal suburb that was devastated 10 years ago when Hurricane Katrina hit the area.
The state’s health officials made the announcement just last week, on Thursday (July 23, 2015). It’s important to mention that this is the second time that brain eating amoeba (Naegleria Fowleri) has showed up in the area in just as many years.
The state’s Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) previously found brain eating amoeba in the area in 2013, when it killed a 4 year old boy from Mississippi. The working theory is that the child got it while playing on the Slip ‘N Slide, in the back yard. The test results informed field experts that the microbial life forms were living in under-chlorinated tap water.
The system was cleaned and flushed at the time, but on Thursday the state’s health officials made the following statement: “DHH Safe Drinking Water Program staff sampled seven sites along the St. Bernard Parish Water System. Two of the seven sites tested positive for the amoeba”.
Olivia Hwang, member of Louisiana’s Department of Health and Hospitals, gave a statement explain that one of the positive tests came from “a site at the water treatment plant before the water” had a chance to be treated. The other positive test came from 948 Angela Street. The working theory is that this second site might have been contaminated “by ground water due to a leak at the sampling station”
Hwang stressed that “chlorine levels at the site of the positive sample did meet the 0.5 mg/l requirement” and went on to inform that the system has once again been put on the cleaning process. The state’s health officials have started adding extra chlorine into tap water, a process that’s going to repeat itself for a period of 60 days. Chlorine is known for killing amoeba.
One possible explanation for the pathogen’s presence is that a car may have hit the sampling station, damaging it and very likely enabling untreated groundwater to make its way into the into tap water supply.
Hwang also explained that there are several parts of St. Bernard Parish which still lack the same level of population that the area had before Hurricane Katrina. A direct consequence of this is that less water is being used, but use is good, as it allows new water to push through the system.
When fresh water is not being flushed through pipes continually, the water often becomes warm and contaminated.
The Naegleria Fowleri is usually harmless to people, even if they swallow water infected with the pathogen. The danger arises when / if it gets inside a person’s nose. In this scenario, the amoeba sometimes makes its way into the brain and attacks one of the nerves responsible for taking “smell signatures to the brain”.
The amoeba then starts to reproduce inside the person’s head, and the victim eventually dies because of the brain swelling and the infection.
Amoeba easily multiplies in warm water and can typically be found living in lakes and rivers.
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