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Making water safe from "brain eating" amoeba

After three deaths from the so-called "brain eating amoeba," the State Health Department put an emergency rule in place last November to ensure water systems are safe.

Many of the people responsible for safe water are in Lake Charles this week for a conference of the Louisiana Rural Water Association. 

Whether drinking it or cooling off in the heat, people expect their water to be high quality and safe.

John Neilson is from Desoto Parish where someone died from a brain infection caused by an amoeba after using a nasal rinse kit. 

"They did not find the amoeba in my system. She was using a neti pot with unsterilized water. There's several ways it could have gotten there, and no one knows," said Neilson.

Have you ever jumped into a swimming pool and had that uncomfortable feeling of water going up your nose? Neilson says it's that kind of force necessary to cause exposure to the amoeba if it's in the water, though it should not be. 

"Even water that has amoeba in it is not dangerous to the human body. Living in the country, we've all probably been in contact with water that has the amoeba in it, but it's only when it gets in the nasal passages in the brain at a certain life cycle of the amoeba and (it) gets through the little, bitty passage in there. All these factors have to line up for someone to contract this thing," said Neilson. 

Neilson says the emergency disinfectant rule put in place by the health department should assure no problems. 

"We immediately started a free chlorine burn, which cleans out your system, and it eradicates the amoeba from your system," said Neilson.

Rusty Reeves is the Deputy Director of the LRWA.  He says the potential for contamination is when water pressure drops.

"The two cases in Louisiana, from the information that was given to me, it's felt that the amoeba entered the distribution system from a repair that was made and when the repair was made something wasn't done exactly right, and it got into the distribution system from in the ground or from some of the water that was there," said Neilson.

He says just as water systems do,  it's good for homeowners to flush their lines if their water has been off for repairs.

"Flush all your lines throughout your house including your hot water heater.  Flush it well," said Neilson.

If citizens have concerns, Reeves suggests they start with their local provider. Many here will take classes to acquire the latest know how and certification to help assure their local drinking water and waste water systems meet state and federal requirements.  

For more information on clean drinking water click here.  

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