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article imageDeadly Amoeba found in New Orleans water supply

By Karen Graham     Jul 25, 2015 in Health
New Orleans - For the second time in two years, residents of St. Bernard Parish have to worry about their water supply. Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) confirmed late Wednesday the presence of Naegleria fowleri amoeba in the water supply.
The potentially deadly amoeba, commonly called the "brain-eating" amoeba, was found in St.Bernard Parish's water supply for the second time in two years. The parish is about five miles outside of New Orleans.
It is not clear yet how the water system became contaminated because the only two positive tests included a sample of water from an untreated source and another sample from a water station that may have become contaminated with ground water. The treated water was said to have the recommended levels of chlorine.
According to ABC News, Jacob Groby, the quality control chief for St. Bernard Parish Water and Sewer Division, said the water system was being flushed and retested to see if the amoeba was still present in the 225-mile long water system. The present water system serves 44,000 residents, down from a pre-Hurricane Katrina level of 68,000 people. Many people left the parish after the 2005 storm.
Groby also said that because of the decreased population level in the parish, and the increasing use of eco-friendly devices, there has been less water being treated for the same water system. Groby says that as a result, water is left standing in the pipes for a longer period of time, possibly losing some of its chlorination.
The DHH notified local officials late Wednesday night and asked them to do a "chlorine burn," raising chlorine levels in the water supply for 60 days. The DHH says the water is safe to drink, but the public is urged to take precautions, such as not getting water in the nose. They also reminded the public that Naegleria fowleri is an amoeba that occurs naturally in freshwater.
In August of 2014, the amoeba was found in the water system of St. John the Baptist Parish. The water system serves 12,577 people living in three Louisiana towns. While the source of the infection was not found, DHH officials did say the water in the system did not have the required level of chlorine disinfectant, making it vulnerable to contamination.
Naegleria fowleri infections are extremely rare, and testing for this amoeba in public drinking water is still new, but evolving. The DHH says fewer than 10 deaths have been recorded in the U.S., with three occurring in Louisiana over the past few years.
In the summer of 2013, a four-year-old boy died in St. Bernard Parish after being infected with the amoeba while playing on a slip-and-slide, health officials say. In February 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed the parish water system no longer tested positive for the amoeba.
Primary amebic meningoencephalitis
Naegleria fowleri causes a disease called primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM). The single-celled amoeba is found in warm freshwater lakes, rivers, hot springs and soil. The usual route of infection is through the nose, where the amoeba travels to the brain, where it causes PAM, a usually fatal disease. The CDC says you cannot get infected from drinking water contaminated with Naegleria fowleri.
As of 2004, PAM was so rare that only 200 cases were known about in recorded medical history. By 2008, the number of known cases had jumped to 300 cases. Health care officials say the incidence of infection is likely to increase as the amoeba's range is increasing because of climate change. With better diagnosis in living patients and confirmation by autopsy, we are learning more about this amoeba.
More about louisiana parish, st bernard parrish, two year ago, braineating amoeba, Naegleria fowleri
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