State health officials said late Wednesday that a rare brain-eating amoeba has been detected in St. Bernard Parish’s water system, nearly two years after a young Mississippi boy died after contracting the deadly single-celled organism at a home in Violet.
The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals confirmed the presence of the Naegleria fowleri amoeba at the site of a leaking sampling station in St. Bernard.
The water system, which serves 44,000 residents, is tested by the state monthly as part of a new program implemented in the wake of the 2013 incident.
The state notified local officials late Wednesday and requested that the parish raise chlorine levels in the water system for 60 days — a formula that officials say has been successful at eliminating the amoeba elsewhere. At that point, state health officials will likely test the water again.
State officials said that when they sampled water at seven sites in St. Bernard, two sites tested positive for the amoeba. One positive test was taken at the water treatment plant before the water was treated. The second positive test was taken in Arabi, but officials said it may have been contaminated by ground water from a leak at the sampling station.
Five other sites on the system tested negative for the amoeba; one site did not meet the required level of disinfectant.
Chlorine levels at the site of the positive sample met the state’s required level of disinfectant.
In late 2013, state health officials issued an emergency rule that required most water systems in the state to maintain a higher level of disinfectant, the first change in required chlorine levels in nearly two decades. Since then, the amoeba also has been found in treated water in St. John the Baptist Parish as well as in DeSoto Parish in northwest Louisiana.
New regulations require a minimum disinfectant level of 0.5 milligram per liter of water throughout any parish water system — an amount believed to be effective in controlling the amoeba.
Earlier regulations had required water systems to have merely “trace” or “detectable” levels of chlorine.
A person cannot contract the amoeba by drinking water, only if it enters the body through the nose and is pushed into the brain.
The 2013 incident in St. Bernard spurred heavy scrutiny of much of Louisiana’s aging water infrastructure. Public health experts contended at the time that insufficient chlorine levels likely contributed to the presence of the amoeba in parts of St. Bernard’s water supply.
The boy who died in 2013, Drake Smith Jr., apparently contracted the Naegleria fowleri amoeba on a Slip ’N’ Slide at a mobile home.
The amoeba turned up at four sites in the parish’s water supply later in 2013 — including at the Violet home — which prompted the parish to begin flushing its water lines with additional chlorine, a process that lasted for months.
By early 2014, state health officials said samplings from nearly a dozen sites in St. Bernard had turned up no signs of the amoeba, which has killed at least three people in Louisiana since 2011.
Follow Richard Thompson on Twitter, @rthompsonMSY.