The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) confirmed the presence of the Naegleria fowleri amoeba in the Schriever Water System at the site 588 Island Road, Montegut (Pointe Aux Chenes). The water system, which serves approximately 97,000 residents in the Houma area, was tested by DHH as part of the State’s new public drinking water surveillance program. DHH notified the water system and local officials Monday afternoon. The Department asked the water system to conduct a 60-day chlorine burn to ensure that any remaining amoeba in the system are eliminated. Parish officials began the burn Monday afternoon and will conduct an additional burn in the Houma Water System out of an abundance of caution.
The affected location of the water system did not meet the required chloramine disinfectant levels set forth by the 2013 emergency rule at the location where the sample tested positive for the amoeba. A second site tested negative for the amoeba but was also below the requirement for chloramine disinfectant levels. Two other sites on the system tested negative for the amoeba and met the requirement for the minimum disinfectant residual level. Tap water in Terrebonne Parish is safe for residents to drink, but the Department urges residents to avoid getting water in their noses. Naegleria fowleri is an ameba that occurs naturally in freshwater.
As Naegleria fowleri infections are extremely rare, testing for this amoeba in public drinking water is still relatively new and evolving. DHH conducts sampling of public drinking water systems for Naegleria fowleri each summer when temperatures rise. So far, DHH has tested a total of 21 systems for the amoeba. Positive results for the amoeba have previously been discovered this summer in St. Bernard and Ascension parishes. Both parishes are conducting chlorine burns as well.
Naegleria fowleri causes a disease called primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM), which is a brain infection that leads to the destruction of brain tissue. In its early stages, symptoms of PAM may be similar to bacterial meningitis.
The Department requested that the water system conduct a 60-day free chlorine burn in the water system. The chlorine burn will help reduce biofilm, or organic buildup, throughout the water system and will kill the ameba. The parish has agreed to conduct this precautionary measure.
Precautionary Measures for Families
According to the CDC, every resident can take simple steps to help reduce their risk of Naegleria fowleri infection. Individuals should focus on limiting the amount of water going up their nose. Preventative measures recommended by the CDC include the following:
- DO NOT allow water to go up your nose or sniff water into your nose when bathing, showering, washing your face, or swimming in small hard plastic/blow-up pools.
- DO NOT jump into or put your head under bathing water (bathtubs, small hard plastic/blow-up pools); walk or lower yourself in.
- DO NOT allow children to play unsupervised with hoses or sprinklers, as they may accidentally squirt water up their nose. Avoid slip-n-slides or other activities where it is difficult to prevent water going up the nose.
- DO run bath and shower taps and hoses for five minutes before use to flush out the pipes. This is most important the first time you use the tap after the water utility raises the disinfectant level.
- DO keep small hard plastic/blow-up pools clean by emptying, scrubbing and allowing them to dry after each use.
- DO use only boiled and cooled, distilled or sterile water for making sinus rinse solutions for neti pots or performing ritual ablutions.
- DO keep your swimming pool adequately disinfected before and during use. Adequate disinfection means:
– Pools: free chlorine at 1 to 3 parts per million (ppm) and pH 7.2 to 7.8, and
– Hot tubs/spas: free chlorine 2 to 4 parts per million (ppm) or free bromine 4 to 6 ppm and pH 7.2 to 7.8.
- If you need to top off the water in your swimming pool with tap water, place the hose directly into the skimmer box and ensure that the filter is running. Do not top off the pool by placing the hose in the body of the pool.
Residents should continue these precautions until testing no longer confirms the presence of the amoeba in the water system. Residents will be made aware when that occurs.