The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday confirmed that a 4-year-old child visiting a St. Bernard Parish home died from primary amebic meningoencephalitis, a brain infection that leads to the destruction of brain tissue. It is a rare infection that previously had been associated with two deaths traced to water in Louisiana in 2011, according to the state Department of Health and Hospitals.
The 4-year-old allegedly contracted the illness in late July while in the Violet area and then died in August, according to parish President Dave Peralta. The DHH just recently received the water tests results back from the CDC.
"The kids were playing on a Slip 'n Slide over a period of 10 to 12 hours," Peralta said. "And from what the CDC has told us, it grows in fresh, hot or warm water and is introduced in the nasal passages and then affects the brain.
"But we are taking many precautions, flushing the parish water system and we will continue to take every precaution," Peralta said. "Before it was even confirmed, we started immediately testing at all sites across the parish.
"There is absolutely no reason for us to believe that this stuff was ever in our water system."
In the 10 years from 2001 to 2010, only 32 infections were reported in the United States, according to the CDC. Of those cases, 30 people were infected by contaminated recreational water and two people were infected by water from a drinking water supply.
Only about 120 U.S. cases — almost all of them deaths — have been reported since the amoeba first was identified in the early 1960s, according to the CDC. About three deaths are reported each year, on average. In August, a 12-year-old Florida boy died after contracting the infection.
Earlier in August, a 12-year-old Arkansas girl survived the infection after being given an experimental breast cancer drug and having her body temperature lowered. Officials believe she is only the third person to survive this infection.
The DHH states that people cannot contract the infection by drinking contaminated water, because stomach acid will kill the amoeba. Naegleria fowleri -- which can cause encephalitis -- infects people by entering the body through the nose.