A disaster was declared in a Texas town after a brain-eating amoeba was found in their local water supply, tested after the death of a six-year-old boy.
Josiah McIntyre died on September 8 after playing in the water of Jackson Lake.
Officials believe the amoeba, Naegleria fowleri, entered her body in a splash pad in town, or from a pipe in the family home.
Amoeba is usually fatal if it enters through the nose, with 90 to 95 percent of infected people dying.
In August, 13-year-old Tanner Lake Wall died after a family vacation to a North Florida campground with a water park and lake.
In July, the Florida Department of Health announced that another case was reported in Hillsborough County.
Six-year-old Josiah McIntyre died on September 8 after playing in the water near his home
McIntyre is believed to have come into contact with water on a splash guard or from a pipe
Eight localities were told Friday not to use water; everyone except Lake Jackson was given the green light on Saturday. The 27,000 residents of Jackson Lake are told to use bottled water
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that people cannot be infected by swallowing contaminated water and it cannot be transmitted from person to person.
Those infected with Naegleria fowleri have symptoms including fever, nausea, and vomiting, as well as stiff neck and headache. Most die within a week.
Infections are rare in the United States, with 34 deaths recorded between 2009-18.
“The notification to us at the time was that he had played in one of the fountains and may even have played with a water pipe at home,” said Modesto Mundo, the city administrator.
He told KCENTV that the city of 27,000 people, 50 miles south of Houston in the Gulf of Mexico, shut down the splash pad soon after the boy’s death.
Lake Jackson on Saturday remained under a no water use warning
The initial test results came back negative, and so on Sept. 17, officials discussed a second round of tests with the Center for Disease Control, the Brazoria County Health Department, and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ).
Tropical Storm Beta slowed their efforts, but more tests were carried out in Lake Jackson on September 22 and confirmed positive for amoeba at three of the city’s 11 sites on September 25.
Those positive samples included the water from the Lake Jackson Civic Center Splash Pad, the family home bib, and a dead end fire hydrant near the downtown splash pad.
TCEQ investigators took samples from water sources across Jackson Lake
This photomicrograph of a brain tissue sample depicts the cytoarchitectonic changes associated with a free-living amoebic infection, which may have been caused by a Naegleria fowleri or Acanthamoeba sp
“We are surprised how all the tests have returned for the system,” Mundo said.
WHAT IS A AMOEBA THAT EATS BRAIN?
Naegleria fowleri is commonly referred to as a “brain-eating amoeba” as it can cause a rare and devastating brain infection called primary amoebic meningoencephalitis (PAM).
But the infection is very rare, and around 35 cases have been reported in the United States over the past decade, according to the CDC.
The single-celled organism is commonly found in warm fresh water, such as lakes, rivers, and hot springs, as well as in soil.
It usually infects people when contaminated water enters the body through the nose. Once the amoeba enters the nose, it travels to the brain where it causes MAP, which is usually fatal.
Infection typically occurs when people swim or dive in warm, freshwater places, such as lakes and rivers.
In very rare cases, Naegleria infections can also occur when water contaminated from other sources (such as inadequately chlorinated pool water or heated and contaminated tap water) enters the nose.
You cannot be infected by ingesting water contaminated with Naegleria.
“But now that it’s been detected in three separate places, here’s where the questions arise: Is it in the system?”
Mundo said 50% of the city’s water comes from the Brazoria Water Authority and the other half comes from wells.
Jackson Lake has shut down its water system. TCEQ is now working with the city to get them out of the BWA and completely go to the well water.
Mundo said the goal is to see if there is contamination in their system or if it is widespread throughout the region.
Eight communities, including Lake Jackson, were told Friday not to drink the water.
Those listed, in addition to Lake Jackson, were Freeport, Angleton, Brazoria, Richwood, Oyster Creek, Clute, and Rosenberg.
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice also sent water tank trucks to two prison facilities – TDCJ Clemens and TDCJ Wayne Scott – which were hit.
Tankers were used to supply water for showers in the two prison facilities.
Bottled water was brought into the prisons on 18 pallet-loaded wheels.
Mundo said the problem appears to be localized and residents of seven cities in the region were allowed to use the water again on Saturday.
Lake Jackson, however, remained under a “Do Not Use” order.
Mundo said TCEQ is testing the system now for residual chlorine and will consider adding a high dose of chlorine to the system for approximately 60 days.
“Water can be used, but we haven’t been told at this stage yet,” he said.
“This is what TCEQ is working with us to see if we can get a superchlorination level that makes it safe to drink.”
Crates of bottled water are distributed to local residents.
Naegleria fowleri is found all over the world. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that most infections in the United States have been caused by contaminated freshwater in the southern states.
An infection was previously confirmed in the US state of Florida earlier this year. At the time, health officials urged locals to avoid nasal contact with water from taps and other sources.
TCEQ officials have been inspecting Lake Jackson since September 8