Katrina link to brain-eating amoeba found in parish water discussed

Sept. 18, 2013 at 9:52 AM
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NEW ORLEANS, Sept. 18 (UPI) -- Hurricane Katrina may be linked to a brain-eating organism in the waters in St. Bernard Parish, La., that has caused two deaths in three years, officials said.

While stressing the link to Katrina remains "speculative," Jake Causey, who oversees safe drinking water for Louisiana, said the population accessing St. Bernard's water supply was reduced after Katrina, which could have resulted in a degradation of the water supply, The (New Orleans) Times-Picayune reported Wednesday.

"Certainly immediately post-Katrina, the St. Bernard population was greatly reduced, and to have a water system designed to provide water to that many people and then you lose half of them, part of the concern would be, just from a water quality perspective, that the water would just be sitting in the pipes, aging, and you could have a deterioration of the water quality," Causey said.

Causey emphasized any discussion about a Katrina link was "speculative and would need to be proven."

Chlorine kills the brain-eating amoeba found recently in the parish water system, officials said. In four areas where the Centers for Disease Control recently found the amoeba, no detectable traces of chloramine the parish uses to disinfect the water were found.

Nearly 80 percent of St. Bernard's housing units sustained damage from storm surge and levee breaches, resulting in its population plummeting by 47 percent from its 2000 U.S. Census figure of 67,229.

About 65,000 homes or businesses were using the water before Katrina. The number now is about 44,000, Causey told The Times-Picayune.

Michael Beach, the head of the CDC's waterborne disease prevention division, Friday told the newspaper the entry of the amoeba into St. Bernard's water system would never be known "for sure," but the organism often enters through breaks in a water system's pipes.

Last week, St. Bernard became the first U.S local government to have its treated water system test positive for a rare brain-eating amoeba. Earlier in September, state health officials confirmed a 4-year-old Mississippi child visiting St. Bernard in July died from the brain-eating amoeba after contaminated water traveled up his nose.

In 2011, a St. Bernard man died from primary amebic meningoencephalitis after using tap water in a device used to rinse the nasal passages and sinuses, The Times-Picayune reported.

The infection is caused by the amoeba entering the nose, then traveling to the brain, where it destroys brain tissue, health officials said. People cannot contract the infection by drinking contaminated water because stomach acid kills the amoeba.

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