The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has confirmed that a child who died from encephalitis, caused by the Naegleria fowleri amoeba, contracted the illness while visiting a home in St. Bernard Parish, the Department of Health and Hospitals announced Thursday.
While water samples taken from the home tested positive for Naegleria fowleri, initial tests of the parish water system are negative for Naegleria fowleri. Because some DHH tests showed low levels of chlorine in some areas of the system, the parish is taking preventative measures to flush its water system and DHH will perform additional testing. These actions are being done out of an abundance of caution to ensure public safety.
Naegleria fowleri is a rare infection that has been associated with three deaths traced to water in Louisiana since 2011. Two people died in 2011, in addition to the death being announced today. The CDC confirmed that Naegleria fowleri was the cause of the death after specialized testing was conducted.
Assistant Secretary for Public Health J.T. Lane said, “We are working with the parish to make sure precautionary measures are being taken while we await additional test results on samples taken from the area’s water system.”
Parish President David Peralta said, “After notification from our state and federal partners regarding this matter, we conducted immediate and exhaustive testing of the entire water supply of St. Bernard Parish. The CDC’s testing detected no evidence of the parasite, however out of abundance of caution; steps were taken immediately to continue to ensure a safe water supply in St. Bernard Parish. We will continue enhanced monitoring and testing of the water supply.”
Using a common preventative maintenance measure, the parish began treating its water system this afternoon with safe levels of additional chlorine and flushing any trace of contaminants from the water system by pushing water through the lines. During this time, the water may have a strong odor of chlorine, may have a different taste and may have slight discoloration. The water will remain safe to drink during this process. Naegleria fowleri cannot be contracted through the act of drinking water.
Any actions taken by the St. Bernard water system are precautionary and meant to protect public health in the parish. DHH is also conducting additional testing and gathering additional water samples using specialized equipment from CDC. Due to the rarity of this amoeba results may take up to a month to confirm. State and local officials will use the test results to guide future decisions about the water system in the parish.
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. For information on preventative measures, please visit the CDC Website here: http://www.cdc.gov/parasites/naegleria/prevention.html
Exposure to Naegleria fowleri typically occurs when people go swimming or diving in warm freshwater lakes and rivers. In very rare instances, Naegleria fowleri infections may also occur when contaminated water from other sources (such as inadequately chlorinated swimming pool water or heated tap water less than 116.6 degrees Fahrenheit) enters the nose when people submerge their heads or when people irrigate their sinuses with devices such as a neti pot. People cannot be infected with Naegleria fowleri by drinking water.
Naegleria fowleri causes the disease primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM), a brain infection that leads to the destruction of brain tissue. In its early stages, symptoms of PAM may be similar to symptoms of bacterial meningitis.
Initial symptoms of PAM start one to seven days after infection. The initial symptoms include headache, fever, nausea, vomiting, and stiff neck. Later symptoms include confusion, lack of attention to people and surroundings, loss of balance, seizures, and hallucinations. After the start of symptoms, the disease progresses rapidly and usually causes death within one to 12 days.
Naegleria fowleri infections are very rare. In the 10 years from 2001 to 2010, 32 infections were reported in the U.S. Of those cases, 30 people were infected by contaminated recreational water and two people were infected by water from a geothermal drinking water supply.