Brain-eating amoeba in water supply worries people in state of Louisiana

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 21 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 21 September, 2013, 4:31am

Bottled water sales have skyrocketed in the US state of Louisiana as officials seek to pin down the source of a deadly brain-eating amoeba in the water supply.

Some people were reported to be too scared to wash their faces in their showers, amid advice from experts saying only people who managed to get the microscopic organism way up inside their noses could be at risk.

The only entry to the brain is through minute openings in a bone about level with the top of the eyeball, said Dr Raoult Ratard, Louisiana's state epidemiologist.

But resident Debbie Sciortino was unconvinced, saying: "As far as taking a bath or shower, you got no other choice. But I ain't drinking it, I ain't giving it to the dogs and I ain't cooking with it either."

The worries began last week when the state health department reported that water in the Violet and Arabi communities outside New Orleans had tested positive for an amoeba which a killed a four-year-old boy from the state of Mississippi last month after he visited St. Bernard Parish.

The state Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) on Thursday tried to dispel common "myths and rumours" about the amoeba Naegleria fowleri - starting with the notion that St. Bernard water was not safe to drink. Meanwhile, the parish held a public meeting about its water on Thursday night.

Jonathan Yoder, an epidemiologist in the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention's waterborne disease prevention branch, said Naegleria has never before been found in water treated by a US water system.

There have been 132 documented infections from the amoeba since 1962, almost all of them fatal, health officials say.

Two incidents of infection in Louisiana in 2011 were of people who used tap water to flush out their sinuses.

However, in all of the earlier cases, Yoder said the amoeba was found in the house's hot water system, and not in either municipal water or in water coming from the home's cold water tap.

But another resident of the area, Angela Miller, said: "Nobody's washing their faces in the showers any more. Nobody's drinking the water.

"My neighbour had their swimming pool emptied and they will have no water in there until this matter is cleared up."

Many people think water should test free of the amoeba before they use it, officials at the DHH said.

But health investigators said they may never know just how Naegleria got into the pipes.


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