Sep 21 2013

How Safe Is the US Water Supply

These were the headlines in few major news outlets around the US this past week:

Deadly brain amoeba infects US tap water for the first time

by Maggie Fox NBC News

A deadly brain amoeba that’s killed two boys this year has been found in a U.S. drinking water supply system for the first time, officials said Monday — in a New Orleans-area system.

The Naegleria fowleri parasite killed a 4-year-old Mississippi boy who likely got it playing on a back yard Slip ‘N Slide, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials say. Tests show it’s present throughout the water supply system in St. Bernard Parish, directly southeast of New Orleans.

St. Bernard water system tests positive for rare brain-eating amoeba, CDC confirms

by  Benjamin Alexander-Bloch, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune

The St. Bernard Parish water system has tested positive for a rare brain-eating amoeba, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed, about a week after St. Bernard Parish government officials assured the public that the parish was taking every precaution possible to flush out its water system.

The CDC has confirmed the presence of the Naegleria fowleri amoeba in four locations of parish’s water system in Violet and Arabi, the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals said Thursday (Sept. 12).

Brain-Eating Amoeba Confirmed In St. Bernard Parish Water Supply, CDC Says

by Zoe Mintz, International Business Times

The St. Bernard Parish water system in Louisiana has tested positive for the rare brain-eating amoeba that killed a 4-year-old boy last month, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control confirmed Thursday. [..]

Officials believe the parish water system became compromised after its chlorine levels were low, according to state Assistant Health Secretary J.T. Lane. The parish will be flushing its water lines with chlorine for several weeks until they reach recommended levels, CNN reports.

Naegleris fowleri is a parasite found mostly in warm fresh water of ponds, lakes, rivers, and hot springs.  It is also found in soil, near warm-water discharges of industrial plants, and unchlorinated or poorly chlorinated swimming pools in an amoeboid or temporary flagellate stage.

It can invade and attack the human nervous system and brain though the nasal passages. This is the only known pathway for the parasite, since it is neutralized in the mouth and gut by enzymes.

In humans, N. fowleri can invade the central nervous system via the nose (specifically through the olfactory mucosa and cribriform plate of the nasal tissues). The penetration initially results in significant necrosis of and hemorrhaging in the olfactory bulbs. From there, the amoeba climbs along nerve fibers through the floor of the cranium via the cribriform plate and into the brain. The organism begins to consume cells of the brain piecemeal by means of a unique sucking apparatus extended from its cell surface. It then becomes pathogenic, causing primary amoebic meningoencephalitis (PAM or PAME). PAM is a syndrome affecting the central nervous system. PAM usually occurs in healthy children or young adults with no prior history of immune compromise who have recently been exposed to bodies of fresh water.

Even with early intervention using large doses of intravenous antifungals, the survival rate is 1% – 3%. the CDC recommends using nose plugs when swimming.

So, Don’t sniff the water? What about cold air vaporizers and humidifier? Granted Louisiana doesn’t have a low humidity issue, but what do you think they use in some air conditioning systems? Bourbon?

The question is what happened in St. Bernard Parish? From Yves Smith at naked capitalism:

For six years, we’ve discussed off and on how income inequality hurt the health of citizens, even in the top income strata. The US now ranks 27th in life expectancy among 34 advanced economies, down from 20 in 1990.

But in addition to the considerable health dangers of stress and weak social bonds, more obvious public health risks may be coming to the fore. Strained municipal budgets means reduced public services, and they can have direct health impact, such as frequency of garbage pickup, the level of staffing of emergency services, the number of hospital beds per capita (consider what happens if you have a natural disaster or disease outbreak and the number of sick and injured exceed the capacity of local facilities). [..]

Now on the surface, this may not sound like a big deal. Poor New Orleans parish screws up, putting kids at risk, but it can fix the problem cheaply and quickly. But the problem is the pathogen should never have been in the water in the first place. Chlorine is inexpensive, so that suggests the contamination resulted from human failings. One has to wonder if those are budget related, due to reduced staffing or changes in supervision procedures. [..]

The problem, of course, is that it will likely take some sort of calamity for the rich to realize that they can’t fully insulate themselves from the rest of society. And the sort of incident that will wake them up to that risk will almost certainly exact a bigger toll on everyone else, unless it’s of the guillotine and pitchforks variety.

1 comment

  1. TMC

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