A disaster has been declared in a Texan town after a brain-eating amoeba was found in their local water supply – tested after a six-year-old boy died.
Josiah McIntyre died on September 8 after playing in the water in Lake Jackson.
Officials believe the amoeba, Naegleria fowleri, either entered his body at a splash pad in the city, or from a hose in the family home.
The amoeba is usually fatal if it enters via the nose, with 90 to 95 per cent of people who are infected dying.
In August Tanner Lake Wall, 13, died following a family vacation to a North Florida campground equipped with a water park and lake.
In July, the Florida Department of Health announced that another case was reported in Hillsborough County.
Josiah McIntyre, aged six, died on September 8 after playing in water near his home
McIntyre is believed to have come into contact with water at a splash pad or from a hose
Eight locations on Friday were told not to use the water; on Saturday, all but Lake Jackson were given the all-clear. Lake Jackson’s 27,000 residents are being told to use bottled water
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says people cannot get infected by swallowing contaminated water, and it cannot be passed from person to person.
Those infected with Naegleria fowleri have symptoms including fever, nausea and vomiting, as well as a stiff neck and headaches. Most die within a week.
Infections are rare in the United States, with 34 deaths recorded between 2009-18.
‘The notification to us at that time was that he has played at one of play fountains and he may have also played with a water hose at the home,’ said Modesto Mundo, the city manager.
He told KCENTV that the town of 27,000 people, 50 miles south of Houston on the Gulf of Mexico, shut down the splash pad immediately after the boy’s death.
Lake Jackson on Saturday remained under a Do Not Use Water Advisory
Initial test results came back negative, and so on September 17 officials discussed a second set 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 on September 22 multiple tests were carried out in Lake Jackson, and on September 25 they were confirmed to be positive for the amoeba at three of the 11 sites in the town.
Those positive samples included water from the Lake Jackson Civic Center Splash Pad, the family’s home hose bib and a dead end fire hydrant close to the splash pad in downtown.
TCEQ investigators took samples from water sources across Lake Jackson
This photomicrograph of a brain tissue specimen depicts the cytoarchitectural changes associated with a free-living amebic infection, which may have been caused by either a Naegleria fowleri, or an Acanthamoeba sp
‘We’re surprised just as everybody that the tests came back for the system,’ Mundo said.
WHAT IS A BRAIN-EATING AMOEBA?
Naegleria fowleri is commonly referred to as the ‘brain-eating amoeba’ as it can cause a rare and devastating infection of the brain called primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM).
But the infection is very rare, and according to the CDC, there have been about 35 cases reported in the U.S. in the last decade.
The single-celled organism is commonly found in warm freshwater, 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 PAM, which is usually fatal.
Infection typically occurs when people go swimming or diving in warm freshwater places, like lakes and rivers.
In very rare instances, Naegleria infections may also occur when contaminated water from other sources (such as inadequately chlorinated swimming pool water or heated and contaminated tap water) enters the nose.
You cannot get infected from swallowing water contaminated with Naegleria.
‘But now that it’s been detected in three separate spots that’s where the questions come up: is it in the system?’
Mundo said 50 per cent of the city’s water comes from the Brazoria Water Authority and the other half comes from wells.
Lake Jackson has closed off its water system. TCEQ is now working with the city to get them off the BWA and go completely to well water.
Mundo said the goal is to see if there is contamination in their system, or whether it is spread across the region.
On Friday eight communities, including Lake Jackson, were told 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 tanker trucks to two prison facilities – TDCJ Clemens and TDCJ Wayne Scott – which were impacted.
The tanker trucks were used to provide water for showers at the two prison facilities.
Bottled water was taken into the prisons on 18-wheelers loaded with pallets.
Mundo said the problem seems to be localized, and on Saturday residents of seven towns in the region were allowed to use the water again.
Lake Jackson, however, remained under a ‘Do Not Use’ order.
Mundo said that TCEQ is testing the system now for chlorine residual, and will consider adding a high dose of chlorine to the system for around 60 days.
‘The water may be able to be used, but at this stage, we have not been told that yet,’ he said.
‘That’s what TCEQ is working with us to see if we can get a super chlorinated level that makes it in their mind safe to drink.’
Cases of bottled water are being distributed to local residents.
Naegleria fowleri is found around the world. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says the majority of infections in the US have been caused by contaminated freshwater in southern states.
An infection was previously confirmed in the US state of Florida earlier this year. At the time, health officials there urged locals to avoid nasal contact with water from taps and other sources.
Officials from TCEQ have been inspecting Lake Jackson since September 8