Officials in St. John the Baptist Parish in southeast Louisiana are monitoring the parish's water following results of test that confirmed the water system is contaminated by a potentially deadly amoeba known as Naegleria fowleri.
The Naegleria fowleri , which is commonly found in soil and warm freshwater such as rivers, lakes and hot springs, is also known as the brain-eating amoeba. It causes a rare brain infection called primary amebic meningoencephalitis, or PAM, which is often fatal.
No illness or death has been attributed to the amoeba so far but officials warned the resident to observe precautionary measures to prevent water from getting into their nasal passages because this is how the amoeba moves to the brain.
"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," said Louisiana State Health Officer Jimmy Guidry.
The presence of the amoeba was found after the water system, which serves over 12,500 people residing in Garyville, Reserve and Mt. Airy, was sampled as part of the surveillance program of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH).
The amoeba test also revealed that the water system did not comply with the state's emergency rule that requires water systems to maintain a disinfectant residual level of at least 0.5 mg per liter in all the distribution lines. The parish said that investigations are currently ongoing to determine why the chlorine levels have dropped to below the state's required level.
On Wednesday, the DDH issued an emergency order that required the parish to conduct a free-chlorine burn, which involves infusing the water lines with 1.0 mg/l of free chlorine for 60 days to kill the amoeba. The chlorine burn is set to begin at 7 a.m. on Thursday, during which residents may observe changes in the taste and smell of the water.
Officials said that it is safe to consume the water for drinking and eating as the Naegleria fowleri cannot cause infection through the stomach albeit precautions should be observed to prevent the water from getting into nasal passages.
"It is safe to drink, to eat, and use to cook," St. John the Baptist Parish President Natalie Robottom said. "The problem is to make sure that you keep precautions to prevent the water from going up your nose."