Residents of St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana, are on alert after the Centers for Disease Control confirmed deadly amoeba have made their way into the water supply. The contamination is the first of its kind in the U.S., and the CDC has been quick to assure residents that the water is still safe to drink, however, there is a serious risk if the water enters through the nose.
The outbreak has already claimed the life of a four-year-old Mississippi boy who died after playing on a friend’s slip-and-slide, where “warm, untreated” tap water entered his nose and caused an infection of the brain tissue. After the CDC confirmed that the boy had died from the infection, caused by Naegleria fowleri amoeba, tests found that the amoeba were present in four areas of the St Bernard Parish water supply.
The infections themselves are exceptionally rare—between 2001 and 2010 there were 32 cases in the U.S. Of those 32, 30 were infected by recreational water and two by water from a geothermal drinking supply. Tap water is typically treated with chlorine, which prevents the amoebae from multiplying, but in the case of St Bernard Parish, those chlorine levels fell below the 0.5 milligrams per liter standard set by the CDC.
While it is the first time that Naegleria fowleri have been confirmed to be present in a water supply, it is not the first time alarm bells have been raised in Louisiana. In 2011 two individuals, one in St Bernard Parish and one in DeSoto Parish died from amoeba-related infections after using neti pots.
So as St. Bernard scrambles to “test and retest” the water, the CDC and DHH are providing advice on how to stay safe. As the amoeba can only reach the brain by entering through the nose, officials insist that the tap water is still safe to drink, but that locals should avoid the use of neti pots, chlorinate pools, avoid putting their heads underwater while taking a bath and “If you take a shower and you put the shower head right up your nose, that’s not a good idea — but nobody does that,” explained Louisiana State Epidemiologist Dr. Raoult Ratard to NOLA.com, adding: “It’s not a question of having water just up your nose, as it has to go all the way up to the roof of your nose.”