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Testing local drinking water for brain-eating amoeba

LAKE JACKSON, Texas – In September, news broke that a brain-eating amoeba was responsible for the death of a 6-year-old Lake Jackson boy. Word of little Josiah McIntyre’s passing quickly spread around the world.

“I’m angry, upset, sad, heartbroken,” said McIntyre’s Mom, Maria Castillo.

RELATED: Lake Jackson residents in need of safe water as brain eating amoeba contaminates water supply

McIntyre died September 8, just days after his trip to a Lake Jackson splash pad. According to health officials, a parasite, called naegleria fowleri, otherwise known as the brain-eating amoeba was in the water.

Evidence of the amoeba was later found in other parts of Lake Jackson’s water supply.

Cities testing for brain-eating amoeba

KPRC 2 Investigates has learned some other cities are now testing their water for this same amoeba, but many are not.

Envirodyne Laboratories is running some of those tests out of their lab in the Alief-area. Each test costs $600 and it covers five gallons of water.

They’ve tested for Alvin, Missouri City and Rosenberg. Each has tested negative.

Rosenberg

The city of Rosenberg pulled water samples on Monday, September 28 and they sent them to an independent lab to test for n. fowleri. KPRC 2 Investigates received those results after filing a Texas Public Information Act Request.

Alvin

“We have 25,000 citizens in Alvin, and it’s very important we make sure our citizens are safe,” said Brandon Moody, director of Public Works in Alvin.

The City of Alvin took a sample of water from 1080 West Snyder on October 7.

Missouri City

Two water samples were taken at the City of Missouri City Regional Surface Water Treatment Plant by a third party laboratory on Thursday, October 1.

You would think, in the aftermath of McIntrye’s death, other municipalities would be scrambling to test their water as well. They’re not.

Most districts not testing water for amoeba

We contacted 80 municipalities and cities in Harris, Montgomery, Fort Bend, Brazoria and Waller counties. An overwhelming majority of the water systems are not being tested for the amoeba, including the city of Houston.

City of Houston

“If one of our neighbors had this big problem, why wouldn’t we do it?” asked KPRC 2 investigator Joel Eisenbaum.

“I know what we do meets all the state and federal standards and our water is safe to consume,” said Yvonne Forrest, director of Houston Water.

Forrest said around-the-clock chlorine monitoring and more generalized bacteria testing eliminates the need to specifically test for the brain-eating amoeba.

RELATED: Local officials need to check water supplies to prevent issues like brain-eating amoeba experts say

That’s in line with industry standards, standards that Lake Jackson did not meet and it cost McIntyre his life.

The city of Lake Jackson has taken responsibility for the chlorine levels. Assistant City Manager Modesto Mundo said the bacteria was able to thrive, because of the low chlorine levels in the town’s water supply.

State regulators said the levels are now where they should be.

How you can check your water quality

You can check your community’s water supply by going to a state website. You can also search for violations.

How rare is it to be infected by a brain-eating amoeba?

Just how rare is it to be infected with a brain-eating amoeba? KPRC 2 analyzed the data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from 1962-2019.

Source of exposure

Authorities said that McIntyre came in contact with the amoeba (also called naegleria fowleri) from the public drinking water. According to the CDC most cases, 59%, originated from a lake, pond or reservoir. According to the CDC, 0.05% came from tap water and 0.03% can be traced back to an aquatic venue like a swimming pool or a spa.

source: CDC
source: CDC
Number of cases

According to the CDC, since 1962, there have been 148 cases. The highest number in one year was in 1980 when eight cases were recorded.

source: CDC
source: CDC

Age group and gender

Over the last five decades, a majority of the cases were found in males. According to the CDC, males made up 75% of the cases and they were predominantly between 5 and 14 years old.

source:CDC
source:CDC