Brain-Eating Bacteria Prompted Ban on Tap Water in Texas City — Is It Going to Take Long?

On Saturday, Texas authorities lifted a warning for all but one Houston-area community to stop drinking tap water because it could contain a deadly brain-eating bacteria, called naegleria fowleri.

Naegleria fowleri is a free-living single-celled living organism mostly found in warm freshwater and soil, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explained. Typically, it infects people when contaminated water enters the body through the nose. From there, it travels to the brain can lead to a rare infection called amebic meningoencephalitis.

People cannot get infected by swallowing water with the bacteria, the CDC said, adding that infections are traced to water entering the body through the nose.

The CDC highlighted that in sporadic cases, naegleria infections might also occur when contaminated water from inadequately chlorinated swimming pool water or contaminated tap water enters the body.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality initially warned eight communities not to use tap water for anything but flushing toilets. The ban now remains valid only for Lake Jackson, a city of more than 27,000 residents. The warning was also canceled for the state prisons and Dow Chemical’s plant.

Earlier this month, a 6-year-old Josiah McIntyre, from Lake Jackson was hospitalized with the bacteria. The boy’s issue was traced back to two potential sources: a water fountain in front of Lake Jackson Civic Center or through water emitted from a hose at the boy’s house.

The public splash pad was closed, and the authorities hired a private lab to run a test. On Sept 14, the results came back negative for naegleria fowleri. The local authorities then contacted the CDC for further testing. On Sept 25, three of the 11 water samples tested positive for the bacteria.

Josiah passed away on Sept 6, after losing the battle with the infection. The boy was honored on Saturday.

From 2009 to 2018, only 34 naegleria fowleri infections were reported in the United States, the CDC said. Out of those reported cases, 30 people were infected by recreational water. According to the CDC, the first deaths from naegleria fowleri found in tap water from treated US public drinking water systems occurred in Louisiana in 2011 and 2013.

The bacteria were also found in 2003 in an untreated geothermal well-supplied drinking water system in Arizona. From 1962 to 2018, 145 people were infected, and only four survived, the CDC added.

The Lake Jackson city should adequately flush the public water system, the authorities said, adding that the ban will be lifted after samples indicate it’s safe to use. According to the official statement, it is not yet known how low long this make take.

What do you think? Are the authorities going to identify how the bacteria entered the public water system?