Rare Brain-Eating Amoeba Found Present In St. Bernard Water Supply
The state Department of Health and Hospitals has confirmed the presence of a rare brain-eating amoeba at four sites in the St. Bernard Parish water supply.
While the water is safe to drink, there is a risk if the amoeba enters the nose. There are basic precautions that families can take — such as chlorinating their pools and avoiding getting water in their noses — to protect themselves, though infection from this amoeba is very rare. - State Health Officer Jimmy Guidry
An investigation into St. Bernard Parish’s water supply came after a 4-year-old boy from Mississippi who was visiting St. Bernard Parish died after contracting the amoeba, likely after playing for a long time on a slip-n-slide.
Louisiana State Epidemiologist Dr. Raoult Ratard says water must travel all the way up the nose for the amoeba to enter the body. Ratard warns that St. Bernard citizens should avoid dunking their head underwater while taking a bath, but says large, chlorinated swimming pools should be safe.
La. health officials have released the following precautions to decrease the chance of residence ingesting the amoeba:
- Don’t allow water to go up your nose or sniff water into your nose when bathing, showering, washing your face or swimming in small hard plastic or blow-up pools.
- Don’t jump into or put your head under bathing water. Instead, walk or lower yourself in.
- Don’t let kids play unsupervised with hoses or sprinklers, which may accidentally squirt water up their nose. Avoid slip-n-slides and activities where it is difficult to prevent water from going up the nose.
- Run baths, shower taps and hoses for five minutes before use to flush out the pipes. This advice is most important the first time you use the tap after the water utility raises the disinfectant levels.
- Keep small pools clean by emptying, scrubbing and allowing them to dry after each use.
- Use only boiled and cooled, distilled, or sterile water for making sinus rinse solutions for Neti pots or performing ritual ablutions. In 2011, the amoeba was linked to deaths of two Louisiana residents who used contaminated water in neti pots.
- Keep your swimming pool adequately disinfected before and during use, mainting proper pH and chlorine levels.