The Department of Health wants to dispel myths and rumors associated with a recent confirmation of an ameba in a drinking water system. This "Myth vs. Fact" is a rundown of common misconceptions about Naegleria fowleri and drinking water in Louisiana.
Here are some common myths and rumors about the ameba:
MYTH: Water from systems that have detected is not safe to drink.
FACT: This is false. The water remains safe to drink. The Naegleria fowleri ameba does not cause an infection if it is in water that a person drinks because the ameba is killed by normal levels of stomach acid. However, the ameba can cause an infection if it goes into a person's nose. Residents should take precautions to avoid getting water in their noses.
MYTH: If I get my water from a system that has detected N. fowleri, I should completely avoid using the tap water.
FACT: It is safe to use the tap water as long as you are taking proper precautions and avoid getting the water in your nose. 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.
MYTH: The only way to be sure that the water is safe for all uses is to test it for Naegleria fowleri.
FACT: This is untrue. The best way to ensure that the water is safe is for it to be tested and monitored for residual chlorine levels. Currently, there are no state or federal drinking water regulations that address monitoring or treatment for amebas. However, it is known that free chlorine or chloramine residual at 0.5 mg/L or higher will control Naegleria fowleri, provided the disinfectant residual persists throughout the water supply system at all times.
MYTH: The Naegleria fowleri ameba is a new problem that was only recently brought into the United States.
FACT: False. Naegleria fowleri is an ameba that occurs naturally in freshwater. Testing for this ameba is relatively new and still evolving, but it has been present in freshwater bodies of water for many years. A handful of deaths in the United States have been traced back to the ameba. In general, Naegleria fowleri infections are very rare. In the 10 years from 2003 to 2012, 31 infections were reported in the U.S. Of those cases, 28 people were infected by contaminated recreational water, and 3 people were infected after performing nasal irrigation using contaminated tap water.