A brain-eating amoeba has been found in a water system in Ascension Parish, officials said Tuesday.
State health officials say the water is safe to drink, but don’t let it get into your nose, because that’s how the parasite enters the brain.
One of four samples taken from the water system near Donaldsonville on the parish’s west bank tested positive Tuesday for Naegleria fowleria amoeba, less than a week after St. Bernard Parish received the same positive results, the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals reported.
The parasite has caused three deaths in Louisiana — in DeSoto and St. Bernard parishes — since 2011. Last year, it was found in public water systems in St. John the Baptist and Sabine parishes.
“We got a call about 1 p.m. (Tuesday) that one of those points tested positive,” said Kenneth Dawson, chief administrative officer of Ascension Parish Government. “It’s located at the very end of the water line closer to the Iberville-Ascension Parish line. … It’s probably in an area with not as much flow.”
Some 622 residents served by the affected portion of the water system were notified immediately, Dawson said.
“We’ve contacted our Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness,” Dawson said. “Our director sent out a phone call to all residents located on that system and informed them of the situation, and gave them a number to call to get more information.”
The Ascension Consolidated Utility District 1, where the samples were taken, serves about 700 people, Dawson said. Three other samples returned negative results.
In response to the positive test result at 9295 Brou Road, Dawson said the parish will conduct a 60-day chlorine burn in the water system. St. Bernard’s water system is currently undergoing the same 60-day treatment, which has proven successful in eliminating the amoeba.
“We are in the process of connecting the equipment,” Dawson said. “We expect the chlorine burn to start late tomorrow or first thing Thursday.”
DHH found that the water system did not meet the proper levels of disinfectant and that chlorine levels were below DHH’s requirement where the positive sample was taken.
Dawson said Ascension officials tried in the past to be proactive by conducting a preventative chlorine burn, as the area has struggled with its chlorine levels in the past, but it proved more difficult than expected because the water district purchases its water from St. James and Assumption parishes.
“Since we are a purchaser of water, we don’t have the equipment that feeds the chlorine,” Dawson said. “In order for us to do it, there are a lot more things we found out we have to do to be proactive. I feel it could’ve been fast-tracked better, though.”
Dawson said the same area tested normal last year, though.
“Normally we don’t have an issue,” Dawson said.
Ascension Parish Councilman Oliver Joseph said Dawson will meet with parish administrators Wednesday morning to talk to them in detail about moving forward.
“I want to make sure DHH is requiring us to do whatever we need to, to straighten out the problem,” Joseph said.
Running tests for deadly amoeba in public drinking water is still new and evolving, according to DHH. Some 133 people have been infected in the U.S. over the past 53 years, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and only three of those people are known to have survived.
Follow Danielle Maddox on Twitter, @Dani_Maddox4.