Gov. Greg Abbott declared a state of disaster in a Texas county after a deadly brain-eating amoeba was detected in a city’s water supply and tied to the death of 6-year-old boy this month.
Residents of Lake Jackson were advised to boil their water before using it after Naegleria fowleri was found in their water system. A previous warning that extended to other cities in Brazoria County said not to use the water at all, but that warning was lifted, and now only the boil advisory remains in effect for Lake Jackson.
Abbott on Sunday declared a disaster in Brazoria County, saying that three of 11 water tests in the county found N. fowleri, “posing an imminent threat to public health and safety, including loss of life.” The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality said it was alerted Friday evening to the presence of N. fowleri in the Brazosport Water Authority supply.
Environmental officials initially warned all users of Brazosport’s system not to use the water, but said later Saturday that “the issue has been narrowed to the city of Lake Jackson’s water distribution system.”
Authorities “are actively working on a plan to flush and disinfect the water system,” but it was unknown how long that will take, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality said. Earlier this month, 6-year-old Josiah McIntyre died after contracting the microbe.
“He was an active little boy,” Josiah’s mother, Maria Castillo, told KTRK-TV. “He was a really good big brother. He just loved and cared about a lot of people.” According to the Houston Chronicle, Josiah’s relatives said he was tested for strep, COVID-19 and other diseases when he got sick with a fever, headaches and vomiting, but by the time doctors realized it was N. fowleri, it was too late.
“We just want people to be aware that it’s out there,” his grandmother, Natalie McIntyre, said Saturday during a fundraiser, the Chronicle reported. N. fowleri can cause primary amebic meningoencephalitis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an infection that destroys brain tissue and can kill within five days. The boy died Sept. 8.
The CDC says N. fowleri is commonly found in lakes in the South, especially in the summer, but getting sick from it is rare, with only 34 documented cases in the U.S. from 2009 to 2018. Those who do get sick are generally infected through their nose after swimming or diving in warm freshwater. The CDC says N. fowleri also can spread via inadequately chlorinated swimming pool water or contaminated tap water.
While Lake Jackson residents are under the boil advisory, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality said they should not allow water to go up their nose or sniff the water while bathing and showering. An infection cannot occur from swallowing infected water, the CDC says.
Josiah’s grandparents said they suspect he was infected after inhaling infected water at a “splash-pad” they visited shortly before he fell ill, the Houston Chronicle reported. A hose at the boy’s house also tested positive for the microbe, according to KTRK-TV.