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Brain-Eating Amoeba Found in Louisiana Water Supply

First Posted: Aug 28, 2014 09:54 PM EDT
Naegleria fowleri

Photo : Courtesy St. John the Baptist Parish Sheriff's Office

An amoeba known to feast on human brains has been discovered in the water supply that serves a community of about 12,500 in Louisiana, prompting state officials to take immediate action to flush the system.

No illnesses or deaths have been linked to the latest amoeba find in St John the Baptist Parish, which is a suburb of New Orleans, serves as the Louisiana equivalent of a county in other states, and claims a total population of about 46,000.

Officials said the Naegleria fowleri (nuh-GLEER'-ee-uh FOW'-lur-ee) amoeba was found in the water stores serving people in the Reserve, Garyville and Mount Airy communities, reported the Associated Press.

The water cleaning process will take up to two months to complete -- although the water is actually deemed safe to drink even if it's contaminated with the amoeba in question, since the potentially fatal spread of the organism occurs through a person's nasal passages, not digestive system, the state Department of Health and Hospitals said in the AP story.

Entering freshwater lakes and rivers, particularly by swimming or diving, is considered the most common way to become infected by the rare amoeba, which can cause injury or death if it gets to the brain.

A child died in 2011 after apparently contracting the organism in nearby St. Bernard Parish.

The affected water system is located along the east bank of the Mississippi River, from which many area communities get drinking water.

The usual water purification processes usually kill the organism before it enters the drinking water, but, note health officials, the amoeba can nonetheless seep into the water supply after the purification efforts, through cracks in underground pipes.

A normal purging treatment involves raising chlorine levels in drinking water, which produces a strong odor when water flows out of local faucets.

Roughly situated midway between the cities of New Orleans and Baton Rouge, St. John the Baptist Parish is a largely industrial and farming area.

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