Last week, reports began surfacing from the Lake Jackson, Texas area about a 6-year old boy dying after being infected by the amoeba, Naegleria fowleri. This amoeba is more commonly recognized as the “brain-eating amoeba.”
The source of where the child was infected has not been identified, but out of 11 samples taken by the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality (TCEQ), there were 3 that tested positive. Two of these samples were potential sources for where the child could have been infected and both were linked to the potable water supply.
This is concerning news for every person when considering the quality of your treated water supply, wherever you live. Questions regarding the risk of this happening here naturally come to the forefront of concern. As your water provider, it is at the forefront of our own concerns as well. We are watching the events in Texas closely, to understand better how it happened and to incorporate any lessons learned into our treatment and disinfection practices.
HWU has protective measures in place to prevent this type of contamination in your drinking water system.
A few years ago, a similar event happened in Louisiana. The contamination was traced back to “pockets” in their system of low to zero presence of active disinfection residual. This caused HWU to look closely at areas within our system where we struggle to maintain a residual. Efforts were increased to flush the water out of these areas more regularly, to keep it fresh and to maintain a level of disinfection. Additionally, we tested these areas for the presence of Cryptosporidium, which is more resistant to disinfection than the Naegleria fowleri amoeba. In other words, if cryptosporidium was not present then there would be a near impossibility for Naegleria fowleri to be present.
As we have moved forward, we continue to closely monitor the disinfection levels and manage the water age in our system. These two methods are among the Best Management Practices for mitigating organic presence in the distribution system.
What other ways can exposure occur?
It is important to know that you cannot get infected from drinking your water, even if it is contaminated with the Naegleria fowleri amoeba. Infection occurs when water containing the amoeba enters the body through the nose.
We are in the middle of and/or approaching allergy, cold, and flu season. COVID-19 is still a reality. This means that there are a lot of people with stuffy noses. Summer will be here again before we know it, with children playing in the water and swimming. With this in mind, here is some guidance to follow if you want to take additional steps to protect yourself and your family.
- The S. Centers for Disease Control advises that if you are making a solution for irrigating, flushing, or rinsing your sinuses (for example, by using a neti pot, sinus rinse bottle or other irrigation device), use water that has been:
- previously boiled for 1 minute (at elevations above 6,500 feet, boil for 3 minutes) and left to cool or
- filtered, using a filter with an absolute pore size of 1 micron or smaller or
- purchased with a label specifying that it contains distilled or sterile water
- Rinse the irrigation device after each use with water that has been previously boiled, filtered, distilled, or sterilized, then wipe the inside dry or leave the device open to air dry completely.
- To protect yourself from Naegleria fowleri-contaminated water, CDC further recommends:
- 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 5 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
- 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,
- DO 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
As always, if you have questions or concerns about the quality of your water, please do not hesitate to give us a call at 270-826-2421.