Brain-eating amoeba detected in La. water system

NEW ORLEANS — A potentially deadly amoeba has been detected in a Terrebonne Parish water system, and while officials say tap water is safe to drink, they are urging people to avoid getting it in their noses. 

The Louisiana Department of Health notified the Schriever Water System and town officials Thursday after confirmed the amoeba’s presence. The amoeba, Naegleria fowleri, causes a brain infection that leads to the destruction of tissue. In its early stages, symptoms may be similar to bacterial meningitis. 

“We would caution the public to refrain from allowing water to enter their nasal passages,” Sobert said in a statement posted on the parish government’s Facebook page. “The water is safe to drink.”  

The health department asked the water system to convert its current disinfection method to the free chlorine method for 60 days to ensure that any remaining amoeba is eliminated. A chlorine burn involves boosting chlorine levels to kill the amoeba and bio-film, which can provide a place for the amoeba to live.

The state has tested for the amoeba, which occurs naturally in freshwater, since 2015. The department samples public drinking water systems each summer when temperatures rise, and has collected 540 samples since 2013, the department said in a news release. 

The amoeba was found in a sample taken from a fire hydrant at the same location that tested positive for the amoeba two years ago, CBS affiliate WWL reports

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says residents who use the water system should not let water go up the nose when bathing or swimming in small pools. In addition, people should not put their heads under bath water or allow children to play unsupervised with hoses or sprinklers.

Residents should run bath and shower taps and hoses for five minutes before use to flush out the pipes, especially the first time after the water utility raises the disinfectant level.

Residents should continue the precautions until testing no longer confirms the presence of the amoeba. The water system will notify residents when that occurs. 

Michael Sobert, general manager of Consolidated Waterworks District No. 1, told WWL that officials have changed disinfectants to treat the problem.

Some residents told WWL that they are concerned. 

“It’s scary. You don’t hear about them a lot,” said Bernadee Pitre. “(I’m) definitely going to be more careful about that.”

© 2017 CBS Interactive…

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