BATON ROUGE - Today, the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) announced that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed the presence of the rare Naegleria fowleri ameba in five locations in DeSoto Parish Waterworks District No. 1, which is one of 14 water systems in the parish. There are no known current cases of illness related to the ameba in DeSoto Parish or elsewhere in the state. The water system was sampled out of an abundance of caution by DHH officials, who then sent the samples to the CDC for testing. Beginning tomorrow, Waterworks District No. 1 will flush its system with additional chlorine to kill the ameba.
DHH officials selected the DeSoto Parish Waterworks District No. 1 water system for additional testing because the area was the site of one of two 2011 Naegleria fowleri-related deaths in Louisiana. Following the confirmation in September that St. Bernard Parish's water system tested positive for the ameba, DHH officials tested the water in the DeSoto Parish Waterworks District No. 1 as a precautionary measure.
At the time of the 2011 deaths in DeSoto and St. Bernard parishes, officials could only confirm the presence of the ameba in the homes of the deceased, but not in the water systems. More advanced sampling technology is now available through the CDC. No known additional infections have occurred in DeSoto Parish, as incidences of infection are extremely rare. Exposure to Naegleria fowleri has historically occurred as a result of swimming or diving in warm freshwater lakes and rivers. An infection of Naegleria fowleri cannot occur by drinking water.
Free chlorine or chloramine residual at 0.5 milligram per liter or higher will control the ameba, provided the disinfectant is present at that level throughout the water supply system continually. The Waterworks District No. 1 in DeSoto Parish informed DHH late Tuesday that it will begin a free chlorine burn in its water system tomorrow morning to achieve a 1.0 milligram per liter free chlorine residual throughout the system. This chlorine burn will last for 60 days after the system reaches the required level.
As a result, residents served by DeSoto Parish Waterworks District No. 1 may notice a change in the smell and taste of the water throughout the chlorine burn. However, the water will remain safe to drink. The DeSoto Parish Waterworks District No. 1 is one of several community water systems in the parish and services 4,980 customers. If residents are uncertain as to what water system they are served by, they should review their most recent water statement.
"We are working closely with the water system and parish officials to ensure that the chlorine levels are increased to a level that will eliminate the risk of exposure to the ameba," said DHH Office of Public Health Assistant Secretary J.T. Lane. "Water from the DeSoto Parish Water Works District No. 1 remains safe to drink; however, we do have guidance for residents on steps they can take to reduce their risk."
"Families can take simple steps to protect themselves from exposure to this ameba, the most important being to avoid allowing water to go up your nose while bathing or swimming in a pool," said Louisiana State Health Officer Jimmy Guidry. "It is important to remember that the water is safe to drink; the ameba cannot infect an individual through the stomach."
PRECAUTIONARY MEASURES FOR FAMILIES
According to the CDC, personal actions to reduce the risk of Naegleria fowleri infection should focus on limiting the amount of water going up a person's nose and lowering the chances that Naegleria fowleri may be in the water. Preventative measures recommended by the CDC include the following:
Residents should continue these precautions until extensive testing done after the chlorine burn no longer detects the ameba in the water system. Residents will be made aware when that occurs. For further information on preventative measures, please visit the CDC website here: http://www.cdc.gov/parasites/naegleria/prevention.html
In response to the positive test result in St. Bernard parish several weeks ago, DHH launched dhh.louisiana.gov/WaterFacts to provide the public with accurate information about the ameba. DHH is also accepting questions from the public for using a form on this Website or via e-mail to DHHInfo@la.gov.
The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals strives to protect and promote health statewide and to ensure access to medical, preventive and rehabilitative services for all state citizens. To learn more about DHH, visit http://www.dhh.louisiana.gov. For up-to-date health information, news and emergency updates, follow DHH's Twitter account and Facebook.