A disaster was declared in a Texan city after a brain-eating amoeba was found in its local water supply – tested after the death of a six-year-old boy.
Josiah McIntyre died on September 8th after playing in the water at Lake Jackson.
Officials believe the amoeba, Naegleria fowleri, entered his body either from a splash guard in town or a hose in the family home.
The amoeba is usually fatal if it enters through the nose. 90 to 95 percent of those infected die.
In August, 13-year-old Tanner Lake Wall died after a family vacation at a north Florida campsite that featured a water park and lake.
In July, the Florida Department of Health announced that another case had been reported in Hillsborough County.
Josiah McIntyre, six years old, died on September 8 after playing in the water near his home
McIntyre is believed to have come into contact with water on a splash guard or hose
Eight locations on Friday were ordered not to use the water. On Saturday, everyone except Lake Jackson received the all-clear. The 27,000 residents of Lake Jackson are said to use bottled water
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say that people cannot be infected by ingesting contaminated water, and that it cannot be passed from person to person.
Those infected with Naegleria fowleri have symptoms such as fever, nausea, and vomiting, as well as a stiff neck and headache. Most die within a week.
Infections are rare in the United States. There were 34 deaths recorded between 2009 and 18.
“We were told at the time that he was playing at one of the play fountains and may have played with a hose at home,” said Modesto Mundo, the city administrator.
He told KCENTV that the city of 27,000, 50 miles south of Houston on the Gulf of Mexico, closed the splash pad immediately after the boy’s death.
Lake Jackson stayed under a recommendation not to use water on Saturday
The initial test results were negative, so on September 17, officials discussed a second set of tests with the Center for Disease Control, Brazoria County Health Department, and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ).
Tropical Storm Beta slowed their efforts, but several tests were conducted in Lake Jackson on September 22nd and confirmed positive for the amoeba in three of the eleven locations in the city on September 25th.
Those positive samples included water from the Lake Jackson Civic Center Splash Pad, the family’s hose bib at home, and a fire hydrant in a cul-de-sac near the Splash Pad downtown.
TCEQ investigators took samples from water sources at Lake Jackson
This microphotograph of a brain tissue sample shows the changes in cytoarchitecture associated with a free-living amoebic infection caused by either a Naegleria fowleri or an Acanthamoeba sp
“We are just as surprised as anyone that testing for the system has come back,” said Mundo.
WHAT IS A BRAIN APPOINTING AMOEBA?
Naegleria fowleri is commonly referred to as the “brain-eating amoeba” because it can cause a rare and devastating infection of the brain called primary amoebic meningoencephalitis (PAM).
However, the infection is very rare, and about 35 cases have been reported in the United States over the past decade, according to the CDC.
The unicellular organism is often found in warm fresh water such as lakes, rivers and hot springs, as well as in the soil.
It usually infects people when contaminated water enters the body through the nose. Once the amoeba gets into the nose, it travels to the brain, where it causes PAM, which is usually fatal.
Infection usually occurs when people swim or dive in warm, freshwater locations such as lakes and rivers.
In very rare cases, Naegleria infections can also occur if contaminated water from other sources (e.g. insufficiently chlorinated swimming pool water or heated and contaminated tap water) gets into the nose.
You cannot become infected if you swallow water contaminated with Naegleria.
“But now that it has been discovered in three different places, the questions arise: is it in the system?”
According to Mundo, 50 percent of the city’s water comes from the Brazoria Water Authority and the other half comes from wells.
Lake Jackson closed its water system. TCEQ is now working with the city to remove them from the BWA and switch them entirely to well water.
According to Mundo, the goal is to determine if the system is contaminated or if it is spread across the region.
On Friday, eight communities, including Lake Jackson, were ordered not to drink the water.
In addition to Lake Jackson, Freeport, Angleton, Brazoria, Richwood, Oyster Creek, Clute and Rosenberg were listed.
The Texas Department of Justice also sent water tankers to two prison facilities – TDCJ Clemens and TDCJ Wayne Scott – that were affected.
The tank trucks were used to supply water to the showers in the two prison facilities.
Bottled water was brought into the prisons with 18 pallets loaded with pallets.
Mundo said the problem was localized and residents of seven cities in the area were allowed to use the water again on Saturday.
However, Lake Jackson remained under the “do not use” command.
According to Mundo, TCEQ is currently testing the system for residual chlorine and will consider adding a high dose of chlorine to the system for about 60 days.
“The water may be usable, but we haven’t been told that at this point,” he said.
“This is what TCEQ is working with us to see if we can achieve a superchlorinated level that will make it safe in their minds to drink.”
Cases of bottled water are distributed to local residents.
Naegleria fowleri is common all over the world. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the majority of infections in the United States were caused by contaminated freshwater in the southern states.
An infection was confirmed in the US state of Florida earlier this year. At the time, health officials urged local residents to avoid contact of the nose with water from taps and other sources.
TCEQ officials have been inspecting Lake Jackson since September 8th