The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, or TCEQ warned a boil water notice for Lake Jackson, Texas could remain in effect up to three more weeks as officials use chemicals to “scour” the system in an attempt to kill the amoeba – which have been traced to the city’s freshwater source, Lake Jackson. The TCEQ said it was unclear how unfiltered water could have ended up in the system.
Prathit Kulkarni is an assistant professor of medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.
How do deaths like this happen?
“It is exceedingly rare. There are usually less than 10 cases per year diagnosed in the United States. The amoeba called Naegleria fowleri is normally found in warm, freshwater environments such as lakes, ponds, rivers and streams. And the organism normally causes infection by entering the brain actually through the nose. It’s inhaled and that’s how the infection occurs.”
How unusual is it to find this amoeba in a drinking water system?
“It is exceedingly rare, actually, for it to be found in the municipal water supply. There was a time in 2013 to 2014 when a similar situation occurred in Louisiana. And they had to undertake the kind of remediation, decontamination plan. I understand similar efforts are underway currently in Lake Jackson in consultation with state authorities and CDC as well.”
How do you get rid of an amoeba like this?
“The most common way that decontamination occurs [is] to get the chlorine levels to sufficient quantity to be able to get rid of the organism, that’s what’s being done here. And that’s the normal way that it happens.”
What do you say to people outside of Lake Jackson concerned about these amoebas?
“There is a routine testing of chlorine levels and things like that to ensure that the drinking water supply is generally safe. The more likely risk for potentially getting the organism is actually through the direct contact with those freshwater environments. Now, the risk is relatively low. If, for example, you go swimming in a lake or a river or something like that, but still, that’s probably the more likely way that somebody would get exposed to it rather than the drinking water supply.”
Is boiling water an effective way to kill the amoeba?
“Yes, I would follow the advisory put out by the city of Lake Jackson about boiling water to use it for drinking and for cooking.”