A brain-eating amoeba infection claimed the life of a 4-year-old boy from Mississippi while visiting a home in Louisiana. State health officials believe he may have come in contact with the waterborne Naegleria fowleri while playing on a water slide.
Water samples taken from the home tested positive for the parasite, according to the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals.
The state health department has not released the child’s age or identity.
Out of what officials describe as “an abundance of caution,” St. Bernard Parish on Thursday began treating its water system with additional chlorine and flushing any potentially contaminated water from its lines. This treatment may result in changes in the smell, taste and color of the local water, the health department said, but it is still safe to drink.
While initial tests for the amoeba were negative, the health department said tests showed low levels of chlorine in some areas of the water supply.
“We are working with the parish to make sure precautionary measures are being taken while we await additional test results on samples taken from the area’s water system,” Assistant Secretary for Public Health J.T. Lane said in a statement.
The health department said the amoeba results may take up to a month to confirm.
The Mississippi boy’s death is the second widely reported loss of a child due to Naegleria fowleri in less than two weeks.
Last month, the same parasite killed Zachary Reyna, a 12-year-old from Florida. A third child, 12-year-old Kali Hardig from Arkansas, survived the infection that struck her after she contracted the amoeba in July.
Between 2001 and 2010, there were only 32 reported cases of people getting Naegleria fowleri in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most of the cases have been in the Southeast.
Naegleria fowleri is found in hot springs and warm freshwater, most often in the Southeastern United States. The amoeba enters the body through the nose and travels to the brain. There is no danger of infection from drinking contaminated water, the CDC said.
The first symptoms of primary amoebic meningoencephalitis appear one to seven days after infection, including headache, fever, nausea, vomiting and a stiff neck.