Texas officials said Tuesday that water samples taken earlier this year from a Houston-area community did not raise concerns before the detection of a deadly, microscopic parasite, which doctors believe killed a 6-year-old boy.
Residents of Lake Jackson are likely to remain under orders to boil water for several weeks as the city continues purging the water supply. Lake Jackson officials said this week that three of 11 samples of the city's water indicated preliminary positive results for the naegleria fowleri microbe.
One sample, Lake Jackson City Manager Modesto Mundo has said, came from the home of Josiah McIntyre, the 6-year-old boy whom doctors said died earlier this month after being infected with the brain-eating parasite.
Republican Gov. Greg Abbott visited Lake Jackson on Tuesday along with the state environmental regulators, who said samples through at least June raised no flags. Abbott said all indications point to the case being isolated and that the suspected problem in the boy’s death was traced back to a splashpad.
"The residual samples that we have in our records show that there would be nothing of concern up until this point," said Toby Baker, executive director of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. "So we will definitely be investigating that further."
The Brazosport Water Authority initially warned eight communities late Friday night not to use tap water for any reason except to flush toilets, but on Saturday it lifted that warning for all communities but Lake Jackson, where the authority's water treatment plant is situated. The advisory also was canceled for two state prisons and Dow Chemical's massive Freeport works.
Naegleria fowleri is a free-living microscopic amoeba, or single-celled living organism commonly found in warm freshwater and soil, according to the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It usually infects people when contaminated water enters the body through the nose. From there it travels to the brain and can cause a rare and debilitating disease called primary amebic meningoencephalitis.
The infection is usually fatal and typically occurs when people go swimming or diving in warm freshwater places such as lakes and rivers. In very rare instances, naegleria infections may also occur when contaminated water from other sources (such as inadequately chlorinated swimming pool water or heated and contaminated tap water) enters the nose.
"This is a terrible tragedy that made something that was rare, and even vanishingly rare, actually happen,” said John Hellersedt, commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services.