Today, the Louisiana Department of Health (DHH) announced that its testing confirmed the presence of the Naegleria fowleri ameba in the St. John Water District 1 water system. This water system serves 12,577 people in the towns of Reserve, Garyville and Mt. Airy. There are no known cases of illness related to the ameba in St. John the Baptist Parish or elsewhere in the state currently.
The water system was sampled as part of LDH's surveillance program that just launched earlier this month. During the ameba testing, LDH discovered the system was not in compliance with the State's emergency rule, which requires water systems to maintain a minimum disinfectant residual level of 0.5 milligrams per liter throughout all of their distribution lines. This 0.5 mg/L level is known to control the Naegleria fowleri ameba.
LDH has issued an emergency order requiring St. John Water District 1 to perform a free-chlorine burn (maintain 1.0 mg/l of free chlorine throughout the system for 60 days) to kill the amebae within the water system. The water will remain safe to drink during this time. At the end of 60 days, LDH will sample the system again for presence of the ameba. In previous cases in Louisiana, this action has been effective in controlling the ameba. The emergency order also requires the system to achieve and maintain compliance with the state's minimum chlorine residual of 0.5 mg/l throughout their system.
St. John Water District 1 is the third water system in Louisiana to test positive for the ameba. Last year, testing by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed the presence of the ameba in the St. Bernard Parish Water System and DeSoto Parish Waterworks District No. 1. The testing followed last summer's death of a child in St. Bernard Parish and the 2011 deaths of two individuals in DeSoto and St. Bernard parishes. At the time of the 2011 deaths in DeSoto and St. Bernard parishes, health officials could only confirm the presence of the ameba in the homes of the deceased, but not in the water systems. In 2013, following the DeSoto and St. Bernard parish incidents, more advanced sampling technology was developed, which LDH used in this case. No known additional infections have occurred in DeSoto or St. Bernard parishes, as incidences of infection are extremely rare. Testing in May on DeSoto Parish Waterworks District No. 1 and St. Bernard Parish Water System did not detect the ameba.
Once St. John Water District 1 begins the chlorine burn, residents served by this water system 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 St. John Water District 1 is one of several community water systems in the parish and services 12,577 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 reduce the risk of exposure to the ameba," said LDH Public Health Assistant Secretary J.T. Lane. "Water from St. John Water District 1 remains safe to drink; however, we do have guidance for residents on steps they can take to reduce their risk."
"Residents in Reserve, Garyville and Mt. Airy are advised to take all recommended pre-cautions to avoid having water enter their nose," said St. John the Baptist Parish President Natalie Robottom. "The parish Utilities Department is taking immediate actions to fully chlorinate the water system and eliminate the threat. As more information becomes available, it will be released to the public."
"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:
- 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 1-3 parts per million (ppm) and pH 7.2-7.8, and
- Hot tubs/spas: free chlorine 2-4 parts per million (ppm) or free bromine 4-6 ppm and pH 7.2-7.8.
- 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 by placing the hose in the body of the pool.
Residents should continue these precautions until testing no longer confirms the presence of 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
For more information on how to protect yourself and on the current status of testing, visit LDH's Water Facts website at www.dhh.la.gov/WaterFacts. LDH launched the website to provide the public with accurate information about the ameba. LDH is also accepting questions from the public for using a form on this Website or via e-mail to DHHInfo@la.gov.