A rare brain-eating amoeba was found in the public water supply of southeast Texas, prompting authorities to advise residents of several cities to avoid drinking tap water over the weekend.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) warned late on Friday, September 25, that residents of Brazosport Water Authority service area were told to avoid consuming tap water after officials detected the presence of Naegleria fowleri in the water supply of the city of Lake Jackson. The commission advised people living in Lake Jackson, Freeport, Angleton, Brazoria, Richwood, Oyster Creek, Clute, and Rosenberg not to use tap water for any reason except to flush toilets over the weekend.
While many of the warnings has since been lifted, officials are still telling residents in Lake Jackson to boil all tap water before using it for drinking and cooking to kill the deadly microbe.
"TCEQ sand city officials are actively working on a plan to flush and disinfect the water system. Until the flushing and disinfecting process is complete, the city [of Lake Jackson] remains under the boil notice," TCEQ officials tweeted on Saturday evening.
The warning comes after 6-year-old Josiah McIntyre died on Tuesday, September 8, after becoming infected with N. fowleri, the Houston Chronicle reports. Doctors were not initially certain what caused the boy’s illness, promoting them to test him for everything from strep to Covid-19. His grandparents started to speculate that he had picked up the infection from inhaling water at a splash fountain at a public park, leading authorities to test the water and eventually detect the pathogen.
As all of this suggests, Naegleria fowleri is a microbe you certainly want to avoid. It’s a single-celled living organism commonly found in warm freshwater and soil. The microscopic organism can cause a brain infection called primary amoebic meningoencephalitis that results in the destruction of the brain and the linings of the brain. The infection typically starts when the microbe enters through the nose and makes its way into the brain. Here, it multiples and starts to eat away at the brain tissue, leading to an array of symptoms including a headache, fever, nausea and vomiting, disorientation, seizures, and hallucinations. Although this disease is very rare, it is almost always fatal.
Just this past summer, a man in Florida died from an infection of the so-called “brain-eating amoeba” after going swimming in a body of fresh water.
Between 2009 to 2018 (the latest statistics available) there were 34 infections reported in the US. Of these, 30 people were infected by swimming in freshwater lakes and rivers, three people were infected after performing nasal irrigation using contaminated tap water, and one person was infected by contaminated tap water used on a backyard water slide.
Unless your local area has been put under any strict warning from authorities, then the risk of being infected with N. fowleri from tap water is low. You can also reduce your risk of coming into contact with this nasty bug by avoiding swimming in freshwater lakes and rivers, as well as not irrigating your nose and sinuses using contaminated faucet water.