Brain-eating amoeba may be in Houston-area tap water, health officials warn

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Texas officials on Saturday lifted a warning for all but one Houston-area community to stop using tap water because it might be tainted with a deadly brain-eating microbe. 

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality warned the Brazosport Water Authority late Friday of the potential contamination of its water supply by naegleria fowleri.

The authority initially warned eight communities not to use tap water for any reason except to flush toilets, but on Saturday it lifted that warning for everywhere but Lake Jackson. The city of more than 27,000 residents is the site of the authority’s water treatment plant. The advisory also was canceled for two state prisons and Dow Chemical’s massive Freeport works.

The advisory will remain in place until the authority’s water system has been thoroughly flushed and tests on water samples show the system’s water is again safe to use. The authority said in a statement that it was unclear how long it would be before the tap water was again safe.

The authority’s water source is the Brazos River.

Naegleria fowleri is a free-living microscopic amoeba, or single-celled living organism commonly found in warm freshwater and soil, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It usually infects people when contaminated water enters the body through the nose, from where it travels to the brain and can cause a rare and debilitating disease called primary amebic meningoencephalitis.

The infection is usually fatal and typically occurs when people go swimming or diving in warm freshwater places such as lakes and rivers. In very rare instances, naegleria infections may also occur when contaminated water from other sources (such as inadequately chlorinated swimming pool water or heated and contaminated tap water) enters the nose.

According to the CDC, between 2009 and 2018, there were 34 infections reported in the U.S. In a majority of the cases, people were infected in recreational water, while three were infected after performing nasal irrigation using contaminated tap water. One person was infected by contaminated tap water used on a backyard slip-n-slide.

Earlier this month, the family of a teen boy said he died from a brain-eating amoeba after vacationing at a North Florida campground in August.





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