Houston Tap Water Possibly Contaminated With 'Brain-Eating Microbe'

A brain-eating amoeba has been discovered in the water supply of the Houston, Texas area, leading to a "Do Not Use Water Advisory" on tap water in 11 nearby cities for about 12 hours. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality issued this advisory late on Friday night, based on tests of the water a few hours earlier. The widespread advisory has now been dropped for all the affected cities except for Lake Jackson.

"At 10 p.m. Friday the Brazosport Water Authority was informed of potential Naegleria Fowleri in the water supply," the TCEQ announced on Friday night. "As a result, the Brazosport Water Authority is issuing a Do Not Use advisory for all water in the following cities: Lake Jackson, Freeport, Angleton, Brazoria, Richwood, Oyster Creek, Clute, Rosenburg, Dow Chemical, TDCJ Clemens and TDCJ Wayne Scott. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality at the direction of the Governor's Office, is working with Brazosport Water Authority to resolve the issue as quickly as possible."

"In a do not use water advisory, citizens in the impacted area are urged not to drink or use the tap water from the impacted system for any purpose for the duration of the advisory, including for bathing," the announcement explained. "Flushing the toilet is OK."

Authorities could not estimate when the Do Not Use advisory will be lowered, explaining that the system needs to be "adequately flushed," and new samples need to be taken and tested to indicate that the water is safe. However long the wait, "the health and safety of the public water system's customers is TCEQ's priority."

Naegleria fowleri is a free-living, microscopic, single-celled organism, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. It can cause a rare but devastating brain infection called primary amebic meningoencephalitis, or "PAM." The CDC notes that it enters the body most easily through the nose, and once inside, it travels to the brain and takes the life of its victim.

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The CDC's article on Naegleria fowleri also says that victims typically contract it while swimming in warm, freshwater places, particularly lakes and rivers. However, in rare cases, it can crop up in contaminated tap water, inadequately cleaned swimming pools and other sources. Heat is a benefit to the amoeba.

TCEQ has continued to share updates on social media, encouraging interested residents to follow them there for the latest. On Saturday afternoon, they shared photos of investigators at a local lake testing water samples. They announced that only Lake Jackson remains on a Do Not Use Water Advisory.