“Brain-eating” microbe found in water

Terrebonne Parish waterworks officials confirmed Thursday that a form of amoeba that can be dangerous to people if taken into the nasal passages was found in the water supply during routine testing, and is being treated with a high-chlorine form of disinfectant.

Naegleria fowleri, commonly known as brain eating amoeba, was found in a fire hydrant at the farthest end of the Terrebonne Water Parish Consolidated Waterworks No. 1 system, on Island Road on Isle de Jean Charles. The sample was taken June 20 and waterworks officials were notified Thursday afternoon. Immediate news media notifications were made thereafter.

Waterworks director Mike Sorbert said the water is safe to drink, but he advises against inhalation of tap-water, particularly through the nose.

“Do not use a Neti pot or anything else that requires nasal inhalation,” Sorbert said. “Letting young children bathe alone, run through sprinklers or do anything else that might cause water to be taken through the nose is not advised. We are being overly cautious because we know that this is a serious business. This is not a stomach ache or anything like that, this is death.”

The amoeba is naturally occurring in certain temperature gradients. That’s why the waterworks began what is called a “free chlorine” treatment weeks before the presence was detected, as they do every year.”

“We began with free chlorine on June 12,” Sorbert said.

Stomach acids naturally kill the amoeba, Sorbert said. But nasal passages lead directly to the brain.

“The only way it can get to your brain with nothing stopping it is from the nostrils,” Sor ert said.

Sorbert said he and members of the water board are proud of the safe protocols that are routinely used, the same ones that resulted in the early detection of the amoeba.

“We have a good staff of people, a good operation, we have the resources to solve the problem and that is what we are trying to do,” Sorbert said. “This amoeba has been around since the dinosaurs. The dinosaurs adapted and we have gasoline in the car. The amoeba adapted and we still have them. We are still trying to find ways to create an environment they can’t live in.”

Terrebonne Parish discovered the amoeba in the water during 2013 and in 2015 and has used the same protocols for detection and treatment. Anyone with questions can call the water district at (985) 879-2495 or visit their website at www.tpcw.org.

The Terrebonne parish emergency notification system began text and email alerts about the condition Thursday afternoon, immediately after notification and verification from the water works.

Brain-eating amoebaFILE