News Feature | June 16, 2018

Brain-Eating Amoeba Returns To Louisiana

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

The so-called brain-eating amoeba is back, once again creating challenges for water safety in Louisiana.

“The presence of brain eating amoeba, Naegleria fowleri, was detected in Terrebonne Parish, according to the water utility Consolidated Waterworks District 1. Consolidated Waterworks reported on Sunday, June 10 that a test conducted by an independent firm showed positive results for the amoeba in a sample from the end of distribution in Pointe-aux-Chenes, in the 4200 block of Highway 665,” The New Orleans Times-Picayune reported.

“Last June, Terrebonne Parish's water system tested positive for the amoeba in Isle de Jean Charles, where it had also been found in 2015,” The Advocate reported.

The water system responded by changing the disinfectant applied in its treatment process. Rather than use chloramine, it will use free chlorine, The New Orleans Times-Picayune reported. The utility consulted with the Louisiana Health Department.

“The amoeba can cause the disease primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM), a brain infection that leads to the destruction of brain tissue and can cause death within one to 12 days, according to the state health department. In its early stages, symptoms of the infection may be similar to symptoms of bacterial meningitis,” The Times-Picayune reported.

In 2014, Louisiana’s challenges with the amoeba prompted officials to make an emergency rule.

The rule "required that water systems in the state maintain a higher residual disinfectant level and increase their number of sampling sites by 25 percent. Most drinking water systems in Louisiana were required to meet this new higher standard by February 1, 2014," the department said.

Brain-eating amoeba infections are actually quite rare.

“From 1962 to 2016, there were 143 reported cases, out which only four people survived. In Louisiana, two residents died in 2011 after using neti pots to rinse out their noses, and a 4-year-old boy died in 2013 after spending hours playing in a Slip 'N Slide in hot and muddy conditions,” The Advocate reported.