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Health

Cleanup efforts for brain-eating amoeba could take months, Texas warns

(Reuters) - Texas officials said on Tuesday it could take several months to ensure the public water system in Lake Jackson, Texas, is free of a brain-eating amoeba that causes a rare infection that killed a 6-year-old boy earlier this month.

Investigators from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality are present on a scene in Lake Jackson to conduct water sampling after a brain-eating amoeba was detected in the water supply in Lake Jackson, Texas, U.S., September 26, 2020. Texas Commission on Environmental Quality/Handout via REUTERS

Texas Governor Greg Abbott and other officials, speaking at a press conference, outlined a plan that would last into the fall, while seeking to assuage fears about the amoeba Naegleria fowleri.

Abbott issued a disaster declaration for Brazoria County on Sunday after the amoeba killed Josiah Christopher McIntyre on Sept. 8. Lake Jackson residents have been asked to boil water until further notice.

Toby Baker, executive director of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, said it could take two to three weeks to remove the boil water notice, and then possibly another 60 days to raise chlorine levels to rid the system of any threats.

Baker said that the state had tested regional water for disinfectant levels that would ordinarily kill Naegleria fowleri. They identified issues in Lake Jackson, where they sampled 54 sites and found 11 areas with levels lower than state minimums.

Lake Jackson City Manager Modesto Mundo told Reuters that the city has not had problems meeting state minimums in the past.

Officials said they were not aware of the amoeba having infiltrated public drinking water in Texas previously.

The amoeba itself is common and present in many bodies of water throughout the southern United States, especially during warmer months.

But the disease caused by the amoeba is exceedingly rare, said John Hellerstedt, Commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services, partly because contaminated water needs to lodge itself up a person’s sinuses to penetrate the brain.

“There is no other way to get it. You cannot get that infection from drinking the water or merely showering in it,” he said.

Reporting by Mimi Dwyer in Los Angeles; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

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