For the second time in two years, residents from Louisiana, New Orleans, are threatened by a potentially deadly Amoeba, commonly known as the “brain-eating” Amoeba. Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) confirmed the presence of Naegleria fowleri Amoeba in the water supply.

The parish is about five miles away from New Orleans, and the Amoeba was specifically found in the St. Bernard Parish’s water supply.

Amoeba the commonly known “Brain Eating” Amoeba

It is still not clear what may have caused the contamination of the water system. Until now, only two positive results from the amoeba included a sample of water from an untreated source, and the other, from a water station that may have become contaminated because of ground water. Moreover, the station didn’t follow the recommended levels of chlorine.

The DHH Safe Drinking Water Program team said, “One positive test was at a site at the water treatment plant before the water was treated. The second positive test occurred at 948 Angela Street, which may have been contaminated by ground water due to a leak at the sampling station. Chlorine levels at the site of the positive sample did meet the 0.5 mg/l requirement.”

Amoeba Naegleria fowleri has a scary form of a face. (Photo: Science VU/D.T. John & T.B. Cole/Visuals Unlimited, Inc.)

According to Jacob Groby, the quality control chief from St. Bernard Parish Water and Sewer Division, said that the water system was being treated and tested to observe if the amoeba is still present in the 225-mile long water supply system. Before Katrina, the system served water to over 68,000 people. Today just to 44,000 residents, as many people left the parish after the 2005 storm. Regarding to this fact, Groby explained that because of the decreasing level of population, there is less water being treated by the water system. As a result, Groby says, the water is left standing in pipes becoming warm and stagnant and possibly losing some of its chlorination: the perfect breeding ground for the Naegleria flowleri.

“There are a number of parts of St. Bernard parish that still don’t have the same levels of population since Hurricane Katrina. Use is good because it pushes new water through the system” Olivia Hwang, a health department official, said.

However, the DHH said that the water is safe to drink, but urged the public to take severe precautions, such as avoiding getting water into their nose. The deadly amoeba enters through the nose and can attach to nerves that send signals to the brain. It then causes brain swelling and infections and it is estimated to be deadly 97% of the cases. The DHH states that fewer than 10 deaths have happened in the U.S.. Nevertheless, three of them have occurred in the state of New Orleans.

In 2013, a four- year old boy died in St. Bernard Parish after being infected by the amoeba, while playing on a slip-and-slice, authorities reported.

Hwang also said that the health department is currently applying extra chlorine in the water to kill this amoeba. Nonetheless, there are four things you can do to protect yourself:

  • Do not allow water to go through your nose.
  • Do not immerse your head under bathing water.
  • Do not let children play unsupervised with hoses,  sprinkles, water slides, etc., to prevent water going through their noses.
  • Run baths, showers, hoses, etc. ,for five minutes before use to flush out pipes.