Brain-eating amoeba in city’s water supply kills 6-year-old, leads Texas to declare a disaster

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued a disaster declaration in Brazoria County on Sunday after the discovery in the local water supply system of an amoeba that can cause a rare and deadly infection of the brain.

“The state of Texas is taking swift action to respond to the situation and support the communities whose water systems have been impacted by this ameba,” Abbott (R) in a news release Sunday. “I urge Texans in Lake Jackson to follow the guidance of local officials and take the appropriate precautions to protect their health and safety as we work to restore safe tap water in the community.”

The governor’s declaration follows an investigation of the death of 6-year-old Josiah McIntyre in Lake Jackson this month after he contracted the brain-eating microbe, which prompted local authorities and experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to test the water. The preliminary results came back Friday, showing that three out of 11 samples collected tested positive.

One of the samples came from a hose bib at the boy’s home, Lake Jackson City Manager Modesto Mundo said, according to CBS News. The others came from a “splash pad” play fountain and a hydrant.

“The notification to us at that time was that he had played at one of [the] play fountains and he may have also played with a water hose at the home,” Mundo said.

On Friday night, the Brazosport Water Authority issued a do-not-use advisory for eight communities after confirmation of the presence of Naegleria fowleri, which destroys brain tissue, then causes swelling of the brain, known as amebic meningoencephalitis. It urged residents to not use the tap water for drinking and cooking.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) urged people to avoid water going up the nose when bathing, showering or swimming and prohibited children from playing with hoses, sprinklers or any device that may squirt water up the nose. It also advised running bath and shower taps and hoses for several minutes before use and boiling tap water before drinking.

By Monday morning, the do-not-use advisory was lifted in Brazoria County, but a boil notice remained in Lake Jackson, where the TCEQ, along with the Texas Department of State Health Services, the CDC and the Environmental Protection Agency are conducting operations to flush and disinfect the city’s water system where the amoeba was found.

Naegleria fowleri is a type of amoeba that can be managed using standard treatment and disinfection processes,” a statement from the commission said.

To ensure the water distribution system is safe, city workers will convert the disinfectant used in the distribution system from chloramine to free chlorine — a practice known as a “chlorine burn.” Chlorine is more useful in deactivating certain types of bacteria that can make it difficult for the systems to maintain a disinfectant residual, a commission statement said.

Over the weekend, city officials handed out boxes of water for the population of about 27,000 at a temporary distribution center.

The water-loving amoeba is often found in warm lakes, rivers and springs. People usually get infected when swimming in these locations, as the microbe travels up the nose and into the brain, where it destroys tissue, causing brain swelling and death.

Initial symptoms range from headache, fever and vomiting to loss of balance and hallucinations, and infection can lead to death, normally within five days. Although infections are rare, the microbe is usually fatal. There have been 145 reported infections in the United States since 1962, from which only four people survived, according to the CDC.

As of 2018, Texas had the largest number of registered cases in the country, with 36, followed by Florida with 35.

The first documented death associated with exposure to water from a U.S.-treated public drinking water system happened in 2013 in Louisiana, according to a report by the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases.


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