State health officials report that testing has confirmed the presence of the Naegleria fowleri amoeba in the St. John Water District 1 water system.

The amoeba is harmless unless it is inhaled through the nose.  In rare cases, it can produce brain swelling and infections that are almost always deadly.

The St. John water system serves 12,577 people in the towns of Reserve, Garyville and Mt. Airy. There are no known cases of illness related to the amoeba in St. John the Baptist Parish or elsewhere in the state currently.

The water system was sampled as part of DHH's surveillance program that just launched earlier this month. During the testing, DHH discovered the system was not in compliance with the state's emergency rule, which requires water systems to maintain a minimum disinfectant residual level of 0.5 milligrams per liter throughout all of their distribution lines. This 0.5 mg/L level is known to control the Naegleria fowleri amoeba.

The testing followed last summer's death of a child in St. Bernard Parish and the 2011 deaths of two individuals in DeSoto and St. Bernard parishes.

The state has issued an emergency order requiring St. John Water District 1 to perform a free-chlorine burn (maintain 1.0 mg/l of free chlorine throughout the system for 60 days) to kill the amoebae within the water system.  The water will remain safe to drink during this time.  At the end of 60 days, DHH will sample the system again.

"Families can take simple steps to protect themselves from exposure to this amoeba, the most important being to avoid allowing water to go up your nose while bathing or swimming in a pool," said Louisiana State Health Officer Jimmy Guidry.

"It is important to remember that the water is safe to drink; the amoeba cannot infect an individual through the stomach," he said.