News Feature | August 8, 2016

Officials Respond To Waterborne Brain-Eating Amoeba Attack

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

Officials responded to another emergency created by the so-called “brain-eating” amoeba last month, rushing to assist an 11-year-old girl who contracted the deadly parasite in a South Carolina waterway.

Officially known as Naegleria fowleri, the amoeba is a major concern for water utilities because it has sometimes struck through drinking water. The amoeba caused a death in Louisiana linked to a disinfected public drinking water system as well as a death in Arizona linked to a geothermal well-supplied drinking water system, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“The largest amount of experience in managing Naegleria fowleri-contaminated water supplies is in Australia, which had multiple deaths in four states during the 1970s and 1980s that were linked to swimming or having other nasal exposure to contaminated drinking water,” the CDC reported.

The CDC makes the following recommendations for water utilities contending with this threat:

If Naegleria fowleri is suspected to be in a municipal drinking water system, the water utility may raise disinfectant levels and flush the system to get rid of Naegleria fowleri. There is normally a layer of scum or biofilm in pipes in water systems and homes. If Naegleria fowleri has colonized a water system, it might be found in the biofilm layer. It is possible that raising disinfectant levels could lead to some of that biofilm coming loose in the water system or a household and being flushed through the system or home.

In the latest emergency, a girl was exposed to the amoeba while swimming outside. “The exposure is thought to have occurred on July 24 while the individual was swimming near Martin's Landing on the Edisto River in Charleston County,” said Linda Bell, an epidemiologist in South Carolina, in a news release.

Hannah Collins is still “fighting for her life,” according to an online fundraising site set up for her family. Her identity was confirmed by the Beaufort Gazette.

The amoeba is a one-celled organism “that can cause primary amebic meningoencephalitis,” the Associated Press reported, citing the CDC.

Officials responded to the latest emergency by rushing a drug to the patient. The drug previously saved another girl’s life, according to the AP.

“A courier drove the drug, called miltefosine, six hours from the company's Orlando, Florida, headquarters to Charleston as soon as the hospital called,” the AP reported, citing Todd MacLaughlan, chief executive at the pharmaceutical company Profounda.

“Between 2006 and 2015 there have been 37 infections in the United States. Only three people have been recorded to have survived exposure. Miltefosine was used to treat one of the survivors — a 12-year-old girl in Arkansas,” the report said, citing the CDC.

To read similar stories visit Water Online’s Drinking Water Contaminant Removal Solutions Center.