August 2013, the death of a 4-year-old boy staying near Violet, Louisiana, was linked to the Naegleria fowleri amoeba. The child had been playing on a slip and slide connected to the St. Bernard Parish’s water system that was later found to be contaminated with the amoeba.

According to NBC NEWS Sept. 16, 2013 –

Deadly brain amoeba infects US tap water for the first time”

Naegleria fowleri infects people when water containing the amoeba enters the body through the nose. This typically occurs when people go swimming or diving in warm freshwater places, like lakes and rivers. The Naegleria fowleri amoeba then travels up the nose to the brain where it destroys the brain tissue. It has now attacked a potable water system in the United States. Despite the “First Time” Headline given to this recent incident by NBC NEWS, the amoeba has been seen here before, showing up in an untreated geothermal well used for drinking water in Arizona.

After the death in August, the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for assistance due to the fact that they could not find a lab in the continental United States to test for the amoeba.

Only because of the related death, the CDC was able to test the water system for the amoeba. They also tested DeSoto Parish Waterworks District No. 1 because it was the site of one of two 2011 Naegleria fowleri-related deaths in Louisiana.

The (CDC) confirmed the presence of the rare Naegleria fowleri amoeba in five locations in DeSoto Parish Waterworks District No. one. Now we can see, this once rare amoeba is making its way into our public water systems.

One of the reasons Naegleria fowleri has not been found in other United States water systems is that it is simply not tested for. The Naegleria fowleri amoeba is a single-celled organism, a naturally occurring parasite that is found in freshwater and can only grow in a water system if the water is untreated or is venerable due to depleted chlorine. Free chlorine or chloramine residuals of 0.5 mg/L or higher will control the amoeba. St. Bernard Parish has flushed its water system with extra chlorine (known as a chlorine burn) to kill the amoeba. The DHH and local officials are now monitoring the chlorine levels on a regular basis.

The CDC web page on Naegleria fowleri has a link to “Amoeba Response Guidelines”  from Australia. It turns out that Australia has had more experience with Naegleria fowleri than anyone. During the 1970s and ‘80s Australia had multiple deaths linked to swimming or having nasal exposure linked to contaminated drinking water.

More commonly linked to swimming, in the U.S. between 1963 and 2012 there were 128 known cases according to the CDC. Most of the cases were in Texas and Florida, having 31 and 33 respectively. In addition to the four-year-old, in 2013 a 12 year-old boy in LeBelle, Florida died about three weeks after contracting the infection, and a 12 year- old girl was infected near Benton, Arkansas in July. She survived and was released from the hospital on September 11th, 2013.

For more information on Naegleria fowleri amoeba in drinking water see:

NOTE: You cannot be infected with Naegleria fowleri by drinking contaminated water. In very rare instances, Naegleria infections may also occur when contaminated water from other sources (such as inadequately chlorinated swimming pool water or contaminated tap water) enters the nose. (For example: when people submerge their heads or cleanse their noses during religious practices, and when people irrigate their sinuses (nose) using contaminated tap water.)

– Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

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