Public health officials discovered last week that a dangerous brain-eating amoeba was present in the Lake Jackson, Texas water supply, resulting in a “disuse” water alert for eight cities.
The problem started in early September when the city learned that a six-year-old boy was hospitalized and later died after becoming infected Naegleria fowleri, a brain-eating amoeba, reports CNN. Officials found that he got the amoeba either from a public splash guard or from an outside hose in his home. The authorities then commissioned both a private laboratory and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to carry out tests.
Last week, the local health department warned the CDC that three out of eleven water samples tested positive for the brain-eating amoeba. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) alerted residents of eight cities, as well as the Dow Chemical plant and two correctional facilities, that they should not use their tap water. The “do not use”
Starting late Saturday, Lake Jackson will be labeled “Boil Water,” which means residents can use tap water but should boil it first. Residents should also be careful not to get water up their noses, put their heads in bath water, and let their water run for five minutes before using it in the bath or shower, TCEQ said on Twitter. Texas governor Greg Abbott also issued a disaster declaration for the city because of the amoeba, reports CBS News.
According to the Mayo Clinic, people are typically exposed to this particular brain-eating amoeba in warm freshwater rivers, lakes, and hot springs when they swim or engage in other aquatic activities. Hence the idea of finding this brain-eating amoeba in your normal water supply is especially importantly troubling. Most of the people exposed to this don’t really get sick. But those who develop an infection get incredibly sick very quickly. This is because the amoeba can cause severe brain damage. It causes a rare condition called primary amoebic meningoencephalitis (PAM) in which the lining of the brain and / or brain becomes self-inflamed, explains the CDC, which can be fatal.
When people exposed to the amoeba develop symptoms, they usually appear between two and 15 days after exposure, explains the Mayo Clinic. These symptoms can include fever, stiff neck, nausea, vomiting, confusion, and sudden, severe headache. If you develop these symptoms – especially after spending time in fresh, warm water – you should see a doctor right away.
Doctors may administer an intravenous antifungal drug or miltefosine, a drug approved for the emergency treatment of Naegleria infection when used with other drugs and treatment strategies, according to the Mayo Clinic. Unfortunately, the infection is often fatal – even with treatment.
After officials identify the source of the problem, the amoeba can “be managed using standard treatment and disinfection procedures,” says TCEQ. And local officials are working together to handle “the incident” and resolve it.