Brain-eating amoeba were discovered in a Louisiana drinking water system. Officials in St. John the Baptist Parish confirmed the organisms were detected in Water District number 1, which serves more than 12,000 residents.
Although the water is potable, residents in Garyville, Mt. Airy, and Reserve, are urged to use caution. As discussed by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, brain-eating amoeba enter the body through the nasal passages.
Naegleria fowleri are microscopic single-celled organisms, which are most commonly found in warm freshwater. Patients become infected when contaminated water is forced into the nose -- usually while diving or swimming.
After entering the nose, the amoeba travel through the nasal passage to the brain. As the resulting infection occurs in the brain, Naegleria fowleri are commonly referred to as brain-eating amoeba.
A primary amebic meningoencephalitis infection is serious, as it causes inflammation of the brain. Unfortunately, the illness is often difficult to diagnose. The CDC reports up "75 percent of diagnoses are made after the death of the patient."
Between 1962 and 2013, a total of 132 PAM infections were reported worldwide. Of those patients, only three survived. Although the reason is unknown, a majority of those infected are children.
In the United States, brain-eating amoeba are most prominent in the "15 southern-tier states." Their predominance in the south is attributed to the warmer climate.
As reported by ABC News, authorities are unsure how the brain-eating amoeba got into the Louisiana water system. However, they did note chlorine levels were unexpectedly low.
Chlorine is generally added to drinking water as a disinfectant. As the amount of chlorine fell below the recommended level, the water "was vulnerable to contamination."
Authorities confirmed the water system will be drained and flushed with chlorine. However, it may take 60 days to remove all traces of the brain-eating amoeba. Although residents should prevent getting water inside their nasal passages, officials insist it is safe to drink.
According to the CDC, only six cases of PAM were ever traced to drinking water. In those six cases, each patient had water forced into their nose. A majority of the patients had used a nasal irrigation device, such as a neti pot.
Brain-eating amoeba are indeed dangerous. However, the risk of infection can be greatly reduced by using a nose plug while swimming and diving. Residents are also urged to avoid using devices which introduce water into the nasal passages.
[Image via Daily News]