It’s All Hurricane Katrina’s Fault

Naegleria fowleri, the brain-eating amoeba that causes primary amebic meningoencephalitis. Credit: CDC.gov

Naegleria fowleri, the brain-eating amoeba that causes primary amebic meningoencephalitis. Credit: CDC.govby Michael J. McGuire

by Michael J. McGuire

Commentary:  Now I have heard everything. The death of the 4-year old boy in St. Bernard Parish is being linked to Hurricane Katrina. As related in a bunch of news articles recently, a Louisiana epidemiologist, who should know better, relates the growth of Naegleria fowleri in the Parish water system to the drop in chlorine caused by depopulation of the Parish after the storm. With less people using the water, the chlorine residual dropped due to longer detention times in the system, or so the story goes. The original story was written by Maggie Fox on the NBC News website on September 17, and the news item has now been picked up by multiple news outlets including CNN.

Hurricane Katrina happened over eight years ago. Is it possible that the water system folks did not notice that the chlorine residual had decreased over the past eight years? Also, in June 2011, a 20-year old man died of the same disease after using tap water in a neti pot to rinse his sinuses. Where did that man live? St. Bernard Parish.

0216 chlorine shortage picAn eight-year old hurricane did not cause this boy’s death. St. Bernard Parish officials knew that Naegleria fowleri was growing in their system two years ago. It is well known that the amoeba grows in water under low chlorine conditions. Water systems are required by law to measure chlorine residuals in their distribution systems. Could some action have been taken to increase the chlorine residual in the water system before this second death occurred? Interestingly, the Parish water utility is now shock chlorinating the system and taking steps to raise the chlorine residual.

I can tolerate some ridiculous speculation in news stories, but this one steps over the line.

References:

Fox, M. “Deadly brain amoeba in tap water may be tied to Katrina,” NBC News Health, http://www.nbcnews.com/health/deadly-brain-amoeba-drinking-water-may-be-tied-katrina-4B11186085 Accessed September 19, 2013.

“Improper use of neti pots linked to deaths,” UPI.com http://www.upi.com/Health_News/2011/12/18/Improper-use-of-neti-pots-linked-to-deaths/UPI-33181324252343/ Accessed September 19, 2013.

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About safedrinkingwaterdotcom

McGuire is an environmental engineer and writer. He has worked in the drinking water community for over 40 yrs
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