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Brain-eating amoeba found in Louisiana water supply

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Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals announced on Thursday that the Naegleria fowleri amoeba, more commonly called the brain-eating amoeba, was found in the water system of St. John the Baptist Parish.

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While there have been no reported illnesses, officials are warning the 12,577 residents of the towns of Reserve, Garyville and Mt. Airy, St. John the Baptist Parish to be extremely careful, parish representative Paige Falgoust said in a statement.

The water system is being flushed and treated with chlorine and is considered to be safe to drink, but residents are warned against getting the water in their nasal passages. Officials say they found the water system for the parish did not have the required level of chlorine.

The flushing process takes 60 days, and extra high concentrations of chlorine will be used to kill the dangerous pathogen. During this flushing period, residents are assured the water will be safe for human consumption.

Naegleria fowleri amoeba, or the brain-eating amoeba, is a single-celled microscopic organism. It requires warm water so it can come out of its inert cyst-stage to feed and multiply. This is the reason we hear more about it during the summer months.

Able to withstand water temperatures up to 113 degrees Fahrenheit, the amoeba can be found in warm areas around the globe. Puddles, ponds, lakes and slow-moving rivers and streams are all favorite places to breed. Untreated swimming pools and spas, as well as untreated, or under-treated municipal water supplies are also at risk from the amoeba. N. fowleri cannot live in saltwater.

While infection from N. fowleri amoeba is considered to be extremely rare, almost half of all deaths from the pathogen occur in the south and southwestern areas of the U.S. Louisiana has recorded three deaths from the amoeba since 2011. This summer, a nine-year-old Kansas girl died from the brain-eating amoeba.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the symptoms for N. fowleri infection can include headaches, fever and nausea. If the disease is left to run its course, seizures and hallucinations can follow, with the individual slipping into a coma. The disease is almost always fatal.

Only three people out of 132 cases in the U.S. between 1963 and 2013 have survived an infection of the brain-eating amoeba. Effective treatment options work well under laboratory conditions. The recent survival of the three patients was the result of being treated with miltefosine, a drug that was given along with other drugs and aggressive management of brain swelling.

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