Brain Eating Amoeba Found in Texas Water Supplies

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Getty Images/ Smith Collection Gado

Picture of Naegleria Fowleri, or ‘Brain-Eating Amoeba’ found in Lake Jackson, Texas

Analei Berger, News Editor

Naegleria fowleri is the only species of the Naegleria that can affect humans. The Naegleria is a type of amoeba, which are eukaryotic single-celled living organisms. While Naegleria fowleri is the amoebas scientific name, it is more commonly known as the brain-eating amoeba. This brain-eating amoeba is most commonly transmitted through warm bodies of freshwater like rivers and lakes. So, whenever Naegleria fowleri was found in Lake Jackson, it was no surprise.

In late September, Texas residents were issued a notice that a brain-eating amoeba had been found in their water supplies. The eight Texas cities that were given a “Do Not Use Water Advisory” were Lake Jackson, Freeport, Angleton, Brazoria, Richwood, Oyster Creek, Rosenberg and Clute.

This disaster began when a six-year-old boy in Lake Jackson was hospitalized with the amoeba. Since the amoeba is so rare, it was traced back to two different situations; one of the possible places the little boy could have gotten it from is a splash pad in the Lake Jackson Civic Center or from his home water hose.

Naegleria are more commonly found in the southern warmer states in the United States but it has also been found all around the world. The Naegleria fowleri is most prominent in Texas and Florida in the summer months.

If a person did contract the brain-eating amoeba, they would start to show symptoms around five days after they were exposed. The early symptoms are nausea, fever, headaches, vomiting and stiffness in the neck. As the infection progresses, the symptoms would worsen to hallucinations, loss of balance, confusion and seizures. The person would go into Primary Amoebic Meningoencephalitis (PAM) as the amoeba destroys brain tissues and the brain starts to swell. The death rate of someone who catches the amoeba is around 97%. It is estimated that around three to eight people in America die from this amoeba every year. Contracting this disease is so rare that there were only 138 diagnosed cases from 1962 to 2015. There have been five survivors around the world and three survivors in the United States.

There is no known cure for the brain-eating amoeba. Some of the treatments that doctors and nurses do is inject an antifungal drug called Amphotericin B into a vein, they can also inject this drug around the spinal cord to directly kill the amoebas. Currently there is another drug that is under investigation, called Miltefosine also known as Impavido, which is available only in the emergency treatments.

“He was an active little boy. He was a really good big brother. He just loved and cared about a lot of people,” Maria Castillo, the six-year-old boy’s mother, said.

Once the city was alerted, they immediately did a five-gallon water test from the fountain and it came back negative for the amoeba, but the CDC was still contacted for additional testing. Then when the water was tested again on September 25, three out of the 11 samples that were taken came back positive for the amoeba. With the positive results, the Center for Disease Control called the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) who then required the city to release the water advisory. The TCEQ decided to test the chlorine levels in Lake Jackson’s water which would take around three days to complete. To accommodate the residents, each household could receive a free case of water daily.

A few days after the “Do Not Use” was issued to the local residents, it was repealed and a boil order was put in place, where residents should boil their water before they use it.

“The city lifted the Boil Water Notice today after TCEQ documented disinfectant residuals were above the state’s required disinfection standards throughout the entire system. Additionally, microbiological samples were collected confirming the city’s drinking water was negative for harmful bacteria,” state officials said.

On October sixth, the notice was lifted as there were no harmful bacteria contaminating the water but it is still recommended to try to avoid getting water far up in one’s nose just to be safe.

If the amoeba was in the water, it would go in through the persons nose and up into their brain. There is no evidence that one could get the amoeba through drinking infected water. Scientists have said that if a person does go swimming in a warm lake, try not to toss up the sediment at the bottom of the lake, as this is where the amoebas like to hang out. They also say to avoid putting one’s head into the water and especially getting water up their nose. Many people are actually exposed to the amoeba but do not contract the illness.