Brain-eating Amoeba That Killed 6-year-old Entered Texas Water Supply Through Splash Pad

The brain-eating amoeba that contaminated the water supply of a Texas city and killed a six-year-old boy has been traced back to a splash pad outside the Lake Jackson civic center.

An investigation by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found the splash pad storage tank created the conditions that allowed the amoeba Naegleria fowleri to develop. The single-celled organism, which lives in freshwater environments, can cause a rare and fatal infection of the brain called primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM). Almost all cases of PAM are fatal.

Last month, Josiah McIntye died after being infected with N. fowleri. Doctors initially thought Joshia was suffering from a viral infection but he was later found to be suffering with PAM. He died on September 8. How he got infected was unknown, but his death prompted Lake Jackson city officials to test water samples and close a splash pad as a precaution.

Testing revealed the presence of N. fowleri in the city water supply and issued a Boil Water Notice for residents, meaning they should use boiled or bottled water because of the threat of contamination. This order was lifted on October 6. Since N. fowleri was found the city also started a program to disinfect the city's entire water distribution system—a process that was expected to take months.

Investigations into Josiah's death and the source of contamination have now been concluded, with Lake Jackson officials finding the splash pad storage tank was to blame. The organism was found at two other locations—Josiah's home and a fire hydrant—but the splash pad storage tank was found to be the only viable source of N. fowleri.

Analysis by the CDC also showed that the amoeba found in the splash pad was the same type that killed Josiah.

"As the city manager and a father, I needed to determine the cause of Josiah's death," city manager Modesto Mundo said at a press conference Friday, which was streamed by Click2Houston. "The city now accepts these results and the responsibility that they bring with them."

He said the splash pad will remain closed and will remain so for the foreseeable future: "We never want this event to happen again in Lake Jackson or to any family. Mundo also said he had not spoken to Josiah's family since the CDC results and that the city is now carrying out an investigation to find out if all safety procedures around the splash pad "were in place or not."

He said he wanted to reassure people in the city that the water is now safe to drink. The 60-day program to keep the water system disinfected would come to an end around December 4. "After that the city will focus on recovering," Mundo said.

brain eating
Stock image representing the brain-eating amoeba Naegleria fowleri. iStock