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Louisiana Department of Health & Hospitals | Kathy Kliebert, Secretary

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State of Louisiana's Response to Confirmation of Rare Ameba in St. Bernard and DeSoto Parishes

Naegleria fowleri

The Department of Health and Hospitals recently announced that testing by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the presence of the Naegleria fowleri ameba in the water system in St. Bernard Parish and in Water Works System No. 1 in DeSoto Parish. The St. Bernard confirmation followed testing of various points on St. Bernard Parish's water system after Naegleria folweri was determined by the CDC to be the cause of the death of a child who visited St. Bernard Parish this summer. The Water Works System No. 1 in DeSoto Parish was tested as a precautionary measure after the area served by this water system was the site of one of two 2011 Naegleria fowleri-related deaths in Louisiana. Naegleria fowleri is a rare infection that has been associated with three deaths traced to water in Louisiana since 2011.

On this page, you will find updated information about the situations in both St. Bernard and DeSoto parishes and the State's response to this issue. You will also find helpful tips for how to keep your family safe and a form to help you ask specific questions of the Department.

What is Naegleria fowleri?

Exposure to the ameba Naegleria fowleri typically occurs when people go swimming or diving in warm freshwater lakes and rivers. In very rare instances, Naegleria fowleri infections may also occur when contaminated water from other sources (such as inadequately chlorinated swimming pool water or heated tap water less than 116.6 degrees Fahrenheit) enters the nose when people submerge their heads or when people irrigate their sinuses with devices such as a neti pot. People cannot be infected with Naegleria fowleri by drinking water.

Naegleria fowleri causes the disease primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM), a brain infection that leads to the destruction of brain tissue. In its early stages, symptoms of PAM may be similar to symptoms of bacterial meningitis.

Initial symptoms of PAM start one to seven days after infection. The initial symptoms include headache, fever, nausea, vomiting, and stiff neck. Later symptoms include confusion, lack of attention to people and surroundings, loss of balance, seizures, and hallucinations. After the start of symptoms, the disease progresses rapidly and usually causes death within one to 12 days.

How can families protect themselves?

According to the CDC, personal actions to reduce the risk of Naegleria fowleri infection should focus on limiting the amount of water going up a person's nose and lowering the chances that Naegleria fowleri may be in the water.  For information on preventative measures, please visit the CDC Website. http://www.cdc.gov/parasites/naegleria/prevention.html

To prevent any risk when using drinking water, make sure water does not go up your nose.  Some common sense suggestions from the CDC include:

  • DO NOT allow water to go up your nose or sniff water into your nose when bathing, showering, washing your face, or swimming in small hard plastic/blow-up pools.
  • DO NOT jump into or put your head under bathing water (bathtubs, small hard plastic/blow-up pools) - walk or lower yourself in.
  • DO NOT allow children to play unsupervised with hoses or sprinklers, as they may accidentally squirt water up their nose. Avoid slip-n-slides or other activities where it is difficult to prevent water going up the nose.
  • DO run bath and shower taps and hoses for 5 minutes before use to flush out the pipes. This is most important the first time you use the tap after the water utility raises the disinfectant level.
  • DO keep small hard plastic/blow-up pools clean by emptying, scrubbing, and allowing them to dry after each use.
  • DO use only boiled and cooled, distilled, or sterile water for making sinus rinse solutions for neti pots or performing ritual ablutions.
  • DO keep your swimming pool adequately disinfected before and during use. Adequate disinfection means:
  • Pools: free chlorine at 1-3 parts per million (ppm) and pH 7.2-7.8
  • Hot tubs/spas: free chlorine 2-4 parts per million (ppm) or free bromine 4-6 ppm and pH 7.2-7.8
  • If you need to top off the water in your swimming pool with tap water,
    • DO place the hose directly into the skimmer box and ensure that the filter is running.
    • DO NOT top off by placing the hose in the body of the pool.

Residents should continue these precautions until extensive testing no longer detects the ameba in the water system. Residents will be made aware when that occurs.

Other Resources

For the Media

Members of the media should contact DHH's Bureau of Media and Communications with questions about DHH's response or to schedule interviews with state experts on Naegleria fowleri and water regulations.

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