Health officials address threat of 'brain-eating' amoeba

Health officials address threat of 'brain-eating' amoeba

CHALMETTE, LA (WVUE) - The dangerous, sometimes even deadly "brain-eating" amoeba has been detected in another Louisiana water supply. The state Department of Health and Hospitals says this time the organism has shown up in Ascension Parish.

Meanwhile, residents of St. Bernard Parish had questions for health officials about what's being done to make sure they're safe after the amoeba was once again found in their water supply.

"I would like you to tell everybody exactly how safe we are," Katherine Serpas asked at meeting in Chalmette Tuesday night.

State health officer Dr. Jimmy Guidry said he wouldn't hesitate to drink the water in St. Bernard Parish, but he says it wouldn't be safe to rinse your sinuses with it. Three people have now died after contracting the rare "brain-eating" amoeba, known as Naegleria fowleri, in Louisiana. Two of those deaths happened in St. Bernard Parish; the most recent victim was a 4-year-old  boy who got it from playing on a slip and slide.

"Our experience with this in drinking water is actually not in this country. We've met with experts in Australia to try to address this issue," Guidry said.

Guidry was joined by State Senator J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, and other health officials.

"We may have been dealing with this amoeba and just didn't know about it because we didn't really find a way to find it until recently, and we didn't have people that died of it through drinking water," Guidry said.

Officials say the amoeba is found in almost every fresh waterway in Louisiana and thrives during the hot summer months. They add that it's likely it has always been there but is now better detected with the state's new public drinking water surveillance program.

"I think it has always been present in the water supplies. I think there is a reason why, when you look at those different nose pots or whatever they tell you, boil the water, because it is something that happens across the world. The difference is now we have created a clear mandate in municipal water supplies - here is how you address this issue," Morrell said.

While many have their concerns, some neighbors aren't worried.

"You can smell the chlorine in the water. They're doing things to treat it, they're taking measures," Chalmette resident Dominick Crocco said.

"If you do the things to eliminate the risk, which is not allowing water to get up your nose, there is very little risk," Guidry said.

Officials with the state Department of Health and Hospitals say they still don't know exactly how the amoeba got back into the St. Bernard Parish water supply. We're told they tested several sites, and it was only found at a leaking sampling station. The state health officer did say he is surprised it was found in an area that had chlorine in it. The water system is now undergoing a 60-day chlorine burn to get rid of any remaining organisms.

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