Oct. 10, 2013 at 2:00 PM ET
Louisiana health officials have advised 82 of the state’s water systems to step up levels of disinfection to make sure they’re killing off a deadly amoeba that killed a boy last month.
The amoeba, Naegleria fowleri, was found in a second water system this week, and it’s possible water systems need to boost levels of the chlorine-based disinfectant they are using, the state department of health and hospitals says.
“DHH is now strongly recommending that the 82 water systems that use chloramines to disinfect their water increase their residual levels to .5 milligrams per liter throughout their distribution lines. This is a level that is known to control the Naegleria fowleri amoeba,” the department said in a statement.
This is higher than what the Environmental Protection Agency recommends. But health officials say it might be needed to make sure the disinfecting chemicals get all the way to the end of the line in some systems.
“Based on DHH's analysis, the St. Bernard and DeSoto water systems have a common trait in that they disinfect by chloramination. A total of 84 water systems — including St. Bernard and DeSoto —disinfect by chloramination.”
4-year-old boy Drake Smith Jr. died after a rare but deadly amoeba infected him while he was playing on a back yard Slid 'N Slide in Bernard Parish, just outside of New Orleans, over the summer. It was the first time the amoeba had been detected in a treated U.S. water system. The organism usually likes hot water and thrives in hot springs, warm lakes and rivers.
Very, very rarely the amoeba can get up a person’s nose. If it gets in far enough driven in, perhaps, when a child dives into a pond — it can attach itself to the olfactory nerve, which takes it into the brain. The multiplying amoebas eat blood cells and nerve cells and cause encephalitis. Only three out of the 130 people known to have been affected in the United States have ever survived, including a 12-year-old Arkansas girl, Kali Hardig, who is still recovering.
Water contaminated with the parasite is safe to drink, as it cannot infect people who swallow it. Health officials say they have not found other contaminants in the drinking water system.