DHH being proactive in light of amoeba concerns - KPLC 7 News, Lake Charles, Louisiana

DHH being proactive in light of amoeba concerns

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The death of a South Louisiana boy from a deadly brain-eating amoeba found in the St. Bernard Parish water system created panic back in August.

Officials believe 4-year-old Drake Smith Jr. came in contact with the deadly parasite while playing on a water slide. 

Smith's death is among 32 nationwide in the last 10 years. Two other deaths from the amoeba occurred in DeSoto Parish back in 2011. According to officials, the amoeba has been around for years and usually people come in contact with it while swimming, showering or running through a sprinkler.

According to health officials, once the parasite makes its way into a person's nasal cavity, it can work its way into the central nervous system and around the brain. Once it's there, it just causes destruction.

After the latest incident in St. Bernard Parish, the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals retested DeSoto Parish's water. Out of the 14 samples taken, five tested positive for the amoeba.

"That's why this morning they immediately initiated a chlorine burn, which is a complete flush of the system. They are going to add higher levels of chlorine for the next 60 days," said J.T. Lane, Assistant Secretary for the Office of Public Health at the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals.

In addition to testing the water in DeSoto Parish, health officials have also contacted water systems around the state. 

"Though this amoeba is very rare, we are getting every water system up to speed on the situation. We're getting as much information as we can from the country's best scientists and engineers ... And sharing that information with everyone," said Lane.

According to Calcasieu OEP Director Dick Gremillion, Southwest Louisiana water systems are already doing everything suggested by DHH. Gremillion also added our main water supply comes from an aquifer, instead of an open water source like DeSoto and St. Bernard parishes.

For now, the state recommends increased monitoring and chlorination for similar water systems.

"So, what we are doing is looking at those other systems that disinfect their water systems in similar ways to see if there is any anomalies that we need to address. And if we find anything of grave concern, we are certainly going to take appropriate action," said Lane. "Bottom line, the water is safe to drink. Even with the increased amount of chlorine."

Currently, there is no national regulation when it comes to this amoeba. DHH officials say they'll continue to work with the CDC and EPA on creating some type of long term national guidelines.

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