US city warned over brain-eating microbe infecting water supply

Credit: PA

A brain-eating microbe has infected the water supply of an area of Houston, sparking warnings from officials.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality initially warned eight areas not to use tap water for any reason except to flush the toilet, but as of Saturday the only area still affected was Lake Jackson.

The city of more than 27,000 residents is the site of the local authority’s water treatment plant.

Officials said in a statement that it was unclear how long it would be before the tap water was again safe.

The advisory will remain in place until the authority’s water system has been thoroughly flushed and tests on water samples show the system’s water is again safe to use.

Earlier this month, six-year-old Josh McIntyre died after contracting the microbe.

The investigation into his death led to the detection of the brain-eating amoeba after heath officials conducted water sample tests, Lake Jackson City Manager Modesto Mundo said in a news release Saturday.

Naegleria fowleri is a free-living microscopic amoeba, or single-celled living organism commonly found in warm freshwater and soil, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It usually infects people when contaminated water enters the body through the nose.

From there it travels to the brain and can cause a rare and debilitating disease called primary amebic meningoencephalitis.

The infection is usually fatal and typically occurs when people go swimming or diving in warm freshwater places such as lakes and rivers.

In very rare instances, naegleria infections may also occur when contaminated water from other sources (such as inadequately chlorinated swimming pool water or heated and contaminated tap water) enters the nose.

The contamination of US treated public water systems by the microbe is rare but not unheard of.

The first deaths from naegleria fowleri found in tap water from treated US public drinking water systems occurred in southern Louisiana in 2011 and 2013.

The microbe also was found in 2003 in an untreated geothermal well-supplied drinking water system in Arizona, as well as in disinfected public drinking water supplies in Australia in the 1970s and ’80s and in 2008 in Pakistan.