Brain-eating amoeba found in Louisiana parish's water system

Naegleria fowleri, the brain-eating amoeba that causes primary amebic meningoencephalitis.

Naegleria fowleri, the brain-eating amoeba that causes primary amebic meningoencephalitis.  (CDC.GOV)

Health officials confirmed a potentially deadly brain-eating amoeba has been found in the water supply of a suburban New Orleans parish.

The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals said the Naegleria fowleri amoeba was found in samples taken from St. John the Baptist Parish’s Water District No. 1, which serves 12,577 residents, Fox 8 reported.

While no known cases of illness have been reported, families are being urged to take precautions to avoid getting water into the nasal passages to prevent the amoeba from entering the brain. According to the CDC, Naegleria fowleri can cause a rare and devastating infection of the brain, which is usually fatal.

“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,” Louisiana Health Officer Jimmy Guidry told NOLA.com. The St. John public schools system has ordered water fountains to be turned off, a school spokeswoman said.

The water was sampled as part of a state surveillance program and was found to be out of compliance with the emergency rule requiring water systems to maintain a certain minimum disinfectant residual level needed to control the amoeba.

The rule was adapted after officials found the amoeba in the St. Bernard and DeSoto Parishes’ drinking water last year, according to Fox 8. A four-year-old Mississippi boy died after contracting the amoeba during a visit to the St. Bernard Parish, NOLA.com reported.  

“The parish Utilities Department is taking immediate actions to fully chlorinate the water system and eliminate the threat,” Parish President Natalie Robottom said in a statement. The parish said an investigation into how the levels of disinfectant dropped is planned.

The parish has been ordered to perform a 60-day free chlorine burn on the water system, after which it will be retested. Officials say despite a possible change in the smell and taste of the water, it will remain safe to drink during the burn.

“Safety of our children, families and parish as a whole needs to be top priority,” Michael Wright, St. John Council Vice-Chairman, said.

The amoeba is responsible for three deaths in the St. Bernard and DeSoto Parishes since 2011, Fox 8 reported.