Almost a decade later, and we’re still seeing the impact of Hurricane Katrina. File this one under “Nightmare Fuel.” (By the way, the amoeba really does look like a scary clown face. Here’s where I found the image.)
The deadly brain-eating amoeba that recently killed a four-year-old Louisiana boy may be linked to unsafe water conditions created by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, experts say.
The boy, Drake Smith Jr., died from a rare but deadly swelling of the brain caused by Naegleria fowleri, a species of single-celled organism known as an amoeba.
The child was playing on a backyard Slip ‘n Slide in St. Bernard Parish, near New Orleans, and was apparently infected by amoebae present in the water in early August. About two days later, he was dead.
For N. fowleri to gain access to the brain, it must go up a person’s nose and climb the olfactory nerve. Simply drinking water that contains the amoeba is not enough to cause an infection, said Raoult Ratard, Louisiana’s state epidemiologist.
“[The boy] spent all day on the slide,” he said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if some water went up his nose.”
N. fowleri is commonly found in lakes and other freshwater systems, but is usually not considered a danger to swimming pools or municipal water systems because they are typically treated with chlorine or other types of disinfectants that kill the amoeba.
But St. Bernard Parish was devastated when Katrina struck in August 2005. “St. Bernard was under 15 feet of floodwater. Water pipes were broken, and the [water] pressure was zero,” said Jake Causey, chief engineer for the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals.