ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST PARISH, LA (WVUE) - The Department of Health and Hospitals said Wednesday that it has detected an amoeba at the end of the St. John the Baptist Parish line in Water District 1. The system services 12,577 people in Reserve, Garyville and Mount Airy.
DHH said while the water remains safe for consumption, there is a risk if the amoeba enters the nasal passage.
Officials said there are currently no known cases of illness related to the amoeba in the parish or elsewhere in the state.
The water system was sampled as part of DHH's surveillance program launched earlier this month. During the testing, DHH discovered the system was not in compliance with the state's emergency rule requiring water systems to maintain a certain minimum disinfectant residual level needed to control the amoeba.
DHH ordered the minimum levels after the amoeba was found in St. Bernard and DeSoto parish drinking water last year. It has killed two people in St. Bernard Parish and one in DeSoto Parish since 2011.
St. John Water District 1 is the third water system in Louisiana to test positive for the amoeba. The water system will perform a free-chlorine burn for two months to kill the amoeba. State and parish officials said the water will remain safe to drink during this time.
"In previous cases in Louisiana, this action has been effective in controlling the amoeba," the state said in a news release.
"The parish Utilities Department is taking immediate actions to fully chlorinate the water system and eliminate the threat," said Parish President Natalie Robottom. "As more information becomes available, it will be released to the public."
The parish said it will begin performing chlorine burns in the system beginning Thursday at 7 a.m. The burn will continue for 60 days.
During the chlorine burn, residents may notice a change in the smell and taste of the water. While the water remains safe for drinking and cooking, there is a risk if an amoeba enters the nose.
"We first need to ensure that our chlorine levels are back to the appropriate pH as per DHH standards. Administration must hold accountability in finding what went wrong in our testing process that allowed our chlorine levels to become so low to this severity. Safety of our children, families, and parish as a whole needs to be top priority," said St. John Council Vice-Chairman Michael Wright.
Residents with questions are asked to call the Emergency Operations Center at (985) 652-2222.
Information will also be posted to the St. John the Baptist Parish website.
PRECAUTIONARY MEASURES FOR FAMILIES
According to the CDC, personal actions to reduce the risk of Naegleria fowleri infection should focus on limiting the amount of water going up a person's nose and lowering the chances that Naegleria fowleri may be in the water. Preventative measures recommended by the CDC include the following:
• DO NOT allow water to go up your nose or sniff water into your nose when bathing, showering, washing your face, or swimming in small hard plastic/blow-up pools.
• DO NOT jump into or put your head under bathing water (bathtubs, small hard plastic/blow-up pools) - walk or lower yourself in.
• DO NOT allow children to play unsupervised with hoses or sprinklers, as they may accidentally squirt water up their nose. Avoid slip-n-slides or other activities where it is difficult to prevent water going up the nose.
• DO run bath and shower taps and hoses for five minutes before use to flush out the pipes. This is most important the first time you use the tap after the water utility raises the disinfectant level.
• DO keep small hard plastic/blow-up pools clean by emptying, scrubbing, and allowing them to dry after each use.
• DO use only boiled and cooled, distilled or sterile water for making sinus rinse solutions for neti pots or performing ritual ablutions.
• DO keep your swimming pool adequately disinfected before and during use. Adequate disinfection means:
• Pools: free chlorine at 1-3 parts per million (ppm) and pH 7.2-7.8, and
• Hot tubs/spas: free chlorine 2-4 parts per million (ppm) or free bromine 4-6 ppm and pH 7.2-7.8.
• If you need to top off the water in your swimming pool with tap water, place the hose directly into the skimmer box and ensure that the filter is running. Do not top off by placing the hose in the body of the pool.