The Herald Bulletin

Evening Update

Breaking News

September 20, 2013

Brain-eating amoeba rattles nerves in La. parish

NEW ORLEANS —  While officials try to pin down the source of a deadly amoeba found in the water supply of a suburban New Orleans community, bottled water sales in St. Bernard Parish have skyrocketed and some people worry about washing their faces in the shower.

That's despite experts who say the only danger is to people who manage to get the microscopic organism way up their noses. Its only entry to the brain is through minute openings in a bone about level with the top of the eyeball, said Dr. Raoult Ratard, Louisiana's state epidemiologist.

But belief comes hard to many people. "As far as taking a bath or shower, you got no other choice," said Debbie Sciortino. "But I ain't drinking it, I ain't giving it to the dogs and I ain't cooking with it either."

The state Department of Health and Hospitals on Thursday tried to dispel common "myths and rumors" about the amoeba Naegleria fowleri (nuh-GLEE-ree-uh FOW-ler-eye) — starting with the notion that the parish water isn't safe to drink. Meanwhile, the parish held a public meeting about its water Thursday night.

The worries began Sept. 12, when the state health department reported that parish water in Violet and Arabi tested positive for the amoeba that had killed a 4-year-old Mississippi boy in August after he visited St. Bernard Parish

Jonathan Yoder, an epidemiologist in the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's waterborne disease prevention branch, said Naegleria has never before been found in water treated by a U.S. water system.

There have been 132 documented infections from the amoeba since 1962, almost all of them fatal, health officials say.

Both of Louisiana's 2011 infections were of people who used tap water to flush out their sinuses. However, each of the earlier cases, Yoder said the amoeba was found in the house's hot water system but not in either municipal water or water coming from the home's cold water tap.

But still people worry.

"Nobody's washing their faces in the showers anymore. Nobody's drinking the water," Angela Miller of Violet said during a break Thursday outside the Chalmette hair salon where she works. "My neighbor has a pool that they have emptied. And they have no water in there now until this matter is cleared up."

That's not necessary, experts say. Stomach acids, boiling and chlorine all will kill the amoeba.

Many people think water should test free of the amoeba before they use it, DHH said, but testing tap water for the amoeba is not as important as making sure that it holds enough chlorine to kill the creature.

Last Friday — the latest available report — there was no detectable free chlorine in water mains and other testing stations along nearly two-thirds the length of the long, narrow parish.

To get the recommended level of one-half part chlorine per million at the system's outer reaches, the parish has been putting about eight times that amount into the water at its treatment plant, said Jake Causey, chief engineer for the state Office of Public Health's engineering services section.

Investigators may never know just how Naegleria got into the pipes.

It usually lives just above the bottom of fresh water, feeding on bacteria. It spreads farthest in warm water. Minnesota reported two infections in the past few years, but the vast majority have been in 15 Southern states, with more than half the total in Florida and Texas.

It might have entered and survived in the water system in many ways, including Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and population loss since then, Causey said.

The parish had to repair more than 1,000 broken pipes after floodwaters receded, he said. "When it was brought back online, the water was chlorinated, flushed and sampled. But water mains can build up biofilms over time, and can get microorganisms in there that stay behind the biofilm."

Meanwhile, the population fell from 67,000 before Katrina to 35,000 afterward and is now about 44,000, Causey said. With fewer people, water moved more slowly through the pipes. A couple of years ago, he said, the parish installed 50 automatic flushing stations to dump water out of the mains periodically, and keep it moving.

Louisiana's cases are unusual. Nearly all of the cases reported nationwide each year are from swimming or playing in warm fresh water — the source of this year's three other infections, in Florida, Texas and Arkansas, Yoder said.

Twelve-year-old Kali (KAY-lee) Hardig, whose parents released her name and who spoke at a news conference when she was released from a Little Rock hospital Sept. 11, is only the second known, well-documented survivor, said Yoder.

Doctors were able to use a drug that is used against another parasite and kills Naegleria in lab tests, Yoder said.

Kali's doctors "caught it early, they treated it aggressively. ... She did survive. We're very encouraged by that development," he said.

And some people who had been avoiding the parish water apparently are drinking it again.

At B & G Fresh Market in Chalmette, owner Brian Gab said he was probably ordering four or five times as much water as usual last week. Now, "I would say it's probably triple."

 

1
Text Only
Breaking News
  • 2 Indianapolis fires leave 1 dead, 20 displaced Two Indianapolis fires have left one man dead and about 20 residents of an apartment building looking for new homes.

    April 20, 2014

  • Ellspermann, Susan Ellspermann to deliver AU commencement address Indiana Lt. Gov. Susan Ellspermann will address the Anderson University Class of 2014 during commencement exercises on Saturday, May 10.

    April 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • 500 Festival Mini Marathon might not fill field

    With less than two weeks to go, the 38th 500 Festival Mini Marathon might not have a full field for the first time in 12 years.

    April 20, 2014

  • Turner case tests bounds of 'citizen legislature'

    When a legislative ethics panel meets this week to review the case of House Speaker Pro Tem Eric Turner, members could have trouble finding clear-cut answers, in large part because of the Indiana General Assembly's status as a "citizen legislature."

    April 20, 2014

  • news_popefrancis.jpg Pope Francis, huge crowd joyously celebrate Easter

    Celebrating Easter Sunday, Christianity's most joyous and hopeful day, Pope Francis prayed for peace in Ukraine and Syria and for an end to the terrorist attacks in Nigeria that have targeted many Christians.

    April 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • news_24restaurants.jpg Mayor's menu filled up: One day, 24 restaurants

    Jenkintown (Pa.) Mayor Ed Foley, in a gut-busting campaign to draw attention to the tiny borough's varied restaurant scene, set out to visit all 24 of them on Saturday, starting with a pre-dawn visit to IHOP.

    April 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • news_ukraine.jpg US weighing military exercises in Eastern Europe

    The United States is considering deploying about 150 soldiers for military exercises to begin in Poland and Estonia in the next few weeks, a Western official said Saturday.

    April 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • news_skoreaferry.jpg 10 more bodies found inside sunken ferry by divers

    Divers recovered 13 bodies from inside a ferry that sank off South Korea, pushing the confirmed death toll to 46, officials said Sunday. The discovery came after rescuers finally gained access to the inside of the ship following three days of failure and frustration caused by strong currents and bad visibility due to inclement weather.

    April 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • spt_flanagan.jpg Hometown favorite wants to win Boston Marathon, for Boston

    Shalane Flanagan grew up in nearby Marblehead with a reverence for the Boston Marathon and dreamed, like many locals and foreign runners alike, that she would win the race someday. Her goal has changed now.

    April 19, 2014 1 Photo

  • Miami Correctional 06.JPG Indiana county worried about new law's impact

    A new law revamping the state's criminal code has sparked concerns in northeastern Indiana's Allen County that it will saddle the county with new costs and fill up the local jail.

    April 19, 2014 1 Photo

Featured Ads
More Resources from The Herald Bulletin
AP Video
Raw: More Than 100,000 Gather for Easter Sunday Raw: Greeks Celebrate Easter With "Rocket War" Police Question Captain, Crew on Ferry Disaster Raw: Orthodox Christians Observe Easter Rite Ceremony Marks 19th Anniversary of OKC Bombing Raw: Four French Journalists Freed From Syria Raw: Massive 7.2 Earthquake Rocks Mexico Captain of Sunken SKorean Ferry Arrested Raw: Fire Destroys 3 N.J. Beachfront Homes Raw: Pope Presides Over Good Friday Mass Raw: Space X Launches to Space Station Superheroes Descend on Capitol Mall Man Charged in Kansas City Highway Shootings Obama Awards Navy Football Trophy Anti-semitic Leaflets Posted in Eastern Ukraine Raw: Magnitude-7.2 Earthquake Shakes Mexico City Ceremony at MIT Remembers One of Boston's Finest Raw: Students Hurt in Colo. School Bus Crash Deadly Avalanche Sweeps Slopes of Mount Everest
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.
Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

Walking Fingers
Maps, Menus, Store hours, Coupons, and more...
Premier Guide
Helium debate
Helium
Front page
Poll

Oscar Pistorius' murder trial has gripped South Africa and sports fans worldwide. If he is found guilty of premeditated murder he faces 25 years to life in prison. Do you think he intentionally shot his girlfriend?

Yes
No
Unsure
     View Results