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Brain-eating amoeba in two Louisiana water systems

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The media is reporting that brain-eating amoeba, also known as Naegleria fowleri, was discovered in two water systems in Louisiana.

Here is information directly from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) about Naegleria fowleri:

The ameba is commonly found in warm freshwater (e.g. lakes, rivers, and hot springs) and soil. Naegleria fowleri usually infects people when contaminated water enters the body through the nose. Once the ameba 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.

Here are ways to protect yourself from Naegleria fowleri if it's every found in your local water system; these come directly from the CDC:

  • DO NOT allow water to go up your nose or sniff water into your nose when bathing, showering, washing your face, or swimming in small hard plastic/blow-up pools.
  • DO NOT jump into or put your head under bathing water (bathtubs, small hard plastic/blow-up pools) – walk or lower yourself in.
  • DO NOT allow children to play unsupervised with hoses or sprinklers, as they may accidentally squirt water up their nose. Avoid slip-n-slides or other activities where it is difficult to prevent water going up the nose.
  • DO run bath and shower taps and hoses for 5 minutes before use to flush out the pipes. This is most important the first time you use the tap after the water utility raises the disinfectant level.
  • DO keep small hard plastic/blow-up pools clean by emptying, scrubbing, and allowing them to dry after each use.
  • DO use only boiled and cooled, distilled, or sterile water for making sinus rinse solutions for neti pots or performing ritual ablutions.
  • DO keep your swimming pool adequately disinfected before and during use. Adequate disinfection means:
    • Pools: free chlorine at 1–3 parts per million (ppm) and pH 7.2–7.8
    • Hot tubs/spas: free chlorine 2–4 parts per million (ppm) or free bromine 4–6 ppm and pH 7.2–7.8
    • If you need to top off the water in your swimming pool with tap water,
      DO place the hose directly into the skimmer box and ensure that the filter is running.
      DO NOT top off by placing the hose in the body of the pool.

While there have been reported cases of brain-eating amoeba exposure, it's important to remember that the chance of infection is still low. According to the CDC, "There have been 40 reported infections in the U.S. in the 10 years from 2007 to 2016, despite hundreds of millions of recreational water exposures each year."

Your local water utility's top priority is your safety and health, so contact them if you have any questions or concerns about your tap water quality and local water supply. 

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