News Feature | July 16, 2015

Brain-Eating Amoeba That Plagued Utilities Returns

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

The brain-eating amoeba that fatally afflicted several Louisiana residents in recent years has struck again, this time in California.

“A 21-year-old woman died recently after contracting a rare infection caused by a brain-eating amoeba that thrives in warm bodies of water,” Accuweather reported.

“The woman was admitted to Northern Inyo Hospital in Bishop, California, on June 16. She was initially diagnosed with meningitis but her condition continued to deteriorate,” the report said, citing the hospital. “She was then flown to Renown Regional Medical Center in Reno, Nevada, where the [Centers for Disease Control] confirmed it was a case of [infection by the amoeba known as] Naegleria fowleri.”

The amoeba prompted regulators to issue new standards for water utilities in Louisiana and may result in calls for a similar crackdown on the West Coast. The South is particularly vulnerable to the amoeba because it thrives in warm water. In California, the amoeba was contracted on private property, however, which may stifle the impulse to regulate.

California is not alone. The land of 10,000 lakes, Minnesota, may be plagued by the amoeba this year, as well. Health officials there indicated that “a brain-eating amoeba might be behind the death of a 14-year-old boy” in the state, WQAD recently reported.

Louisiana issued emergency water regulations two years ago to beat back the brain-eating amoeba incursion that resulted in the death of 4-year old boy during the summer. The new rule required that water systems maintain higher disinfectant levels and boost water sampling sites by 25 percent, the Associated Press reported at the time.

Deaths caused by the brain-eating amoeba are rare, Forbes reported.

“In the past 10 years, only 35 Naegleria infections were reported in the U.S. In the last 50 years, fewer than 130 people died from this infection; only 3 survived. In contrast, a recent cluster in Karachi, Pakistan, has just claimed it’s eighth victim within the past few weeks,” the report said.

More stories about waterborne amoebas can be found through Water Online’s Source Water Contamination Solutions Center.