Texas City Purges Water Supply After 6-Year-Old Dies From Brain-Eating Amoeba

Johnny Nguyen 09:20

Samples taken from Lake Jackson's water supply tested positive for the amoeba that's blamed for Josiah McIntyre's death.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued a disaster declaration for a Houston-area county after a 6-year-old boy died from a brain-eating amoeba that was later detected in a local water supply.

The governor’s declaration on Sunday was for Brazoria County after the amoeba, Naegleria fowleri, was found in three of 11 water samples collected in the City of Lake Jackson. Those positive samples were taken from a children’s splash pad in a public park, a nearby fire hydrant, and a watering hose outside the boy’s house.

“I urge Texans in Lake Jackson to follow the guidance of local officials and take the appropriate precautions to protect their health and safety as we work to restore safe tap water in the community,” Abbott said in a statement.

A Lake Jackson water waste operator flushes water from a fire hydrant on Monday in Lake Jackson, Texas, after a brain-eating
A Lake Jackson water waste operator flushes water from a fire hydrant on Monday in Lake Jackson, Texas, after a brain-eating amoeba was discovered in the city's water supply.

The declaration comes after Josiah McIntyre, who was infected with the amoeba and became ill, died on Sept. 8. The amoeba causes primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM), a disease of the central nervous system, according to health officials.

Josiah’s mother said her son first showed flu-like symptoms, including a headache and a fever. He then had trouble standing and communicating.

“I just can’t believe it, he was fine and then he wasn’t,” Maria Castillo told News 4 San Antonio of her family’s tragedy. She said she hopes speaking out about her son’s death will keep others from getting sick.

“As a parent, it’s hard to not think about it. Because I’m supposed to protect him and I couldn’t from this,” she said.

The amoeba is found in warm freshwater and can enter the body and travel to the brain if water contaminated with it enters the nose. Infection is rare but usually fatal, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“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,” the CDC’s website states. “You cannot get infected from swallowing water contaminated with Naegleria.”

National Guard soldiers and local government employees distribute bottled water to residents in Lake Jackson on Monday. Texas
National Guard soldiers and local government employees distribute bottled water to residents in Lake Jackson on Monday. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued a disaster declaration on Sunday that extends across Brazoria County, where Lake Jackson is located.

There have been only 145 confirmed cases of PAM in the U.S. from 1962 through 2018. Of those infected individuals, only four survived. The infections were primarily in 15 Southern states, with more than half of all of them taking place in Texas and Florida, according to the CDC.

The Brazosport Water Authority on Friday issued a do-not-use advisory for eight communities in response to the water’s positive test results. This advisory was later lifted but a boil notice remained in effect as of Tuesday in Lake Jackson amid efforts to flush and disinfect the city’s entire water system.

“Until the flushing and disinfecting process is complete, the city remains under the boil notice,” the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) said in a statement.

Residents are also advised to take extra precautions when using water outside of drinking and cooking. Authorities recommend running baths and shower taps for five minutes before using them to help flush out the pipes, and ensuring that swimming pools and hot tubs are adequately disinfected with chlorine before and during use.

“The health and safety of the public is TCEQ’s priority. It is not yet known how long it will take to adequately flush the system and test the water to ensure it is completely safe to use,” the commission said.

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