Brain-Eating Amoeba Found in a Texas City’s Water Supply

Lake Jackson water tower. (Image via KPRC/NBC)

The unfortunate death of Josiah McIntyre, a 6-year-old Texas resident, has led to a thorough investigation of the city of Houston’s water supply for a deadly brain-eating amoeba (Naegleria Fowleri). KHOU-TV, a CBS news affiliate, reported the child was hospitalized earlier this month after allegedly contracting it from a Lake Jackson splash pad or a hose at his family’s home.

What We Know:

  • The investigation immediately started after the child’s death on Sept. 8th. Jackson City Manager Modesto Mundo stated in a news release that once it was confirmed that the brain-eating amoeba was present, health officials conducted water sample tests. The 11 tests came back with three positive samples indicating the presence of the brain-eating microbe. One of the three came from the boy’s home.
  • Mundo went onto say that “the notification to us at that time was that he has played at one of the play fountains and he may have also played with a water hose at the home”. As a result of the contaminated water supply, Governor Greg Abbott issued a disaster declaration over the weekend for several of the communities affected.

  • The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) said it is working with city officials to flush and disinfect the water system. Until the flushing and disinfecting process is complete, the city remains under the boil notice. The commission initially warned eight communities about the Naegleria Fowleri contamination and to avoid the use of tap water for anything except toilet use.
  • The warning was lifted earlier Saturday for the other seven communities with the exception of the Lake Jackson area, home to over 27,000 residents, and the authority’s water treatment plant. In fact, a recent development states that a boil water notice in Lake Jackson will last up to three weeks more, just to make sure the deadly amoeba is eradicated.
  • “During this period of disinfection and flushing, boiling the tap water makes it safe for drinking and cooking,” said a statement from the TCEQ. “Naegleria Fowleri is a type of amoeba that can be managed using the standard treatment and disinfection processes.”
  • According to the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Naegleria Fowleri is a “free-living microscopic amoeba, or single-celled living organism commonly found in warm freshwater and soil”. The primary way a human can be infected is if contaminated water enters the nose directly from the source. Among entry, it travels to the brain and causes the damage known as Primary Amebic Meningoencephalitis.

This devastating infection acts relatively quickly and is usually fatal. Common ways people contract it is via recreational use of warm freshwater bodies of water, such as swimming or diving. In even rarer scenarios, Naegleria Fowleri can appear in poorly chlorinated swimming pools or heated and contaminated tap water. It’s worthy to note that one cannot get infected by swallowing contaminated water.