Austin Parks and Rec doesn’t test for brain-eating amoeba because chlorine can kill it, city says


Infectious form of the parasite Naegleria fowleri (Getty Images)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — In the wake of a North Texas boy dying Sept. 11 from a disease caused by a brain-eating amoeba after playing at a splash pad, KXAN asked Austin officials what kind of testing the city does to prevent the amoeba from being in its water.

A spokesperson for Austin Public Health said the parks and recreation department’s aquatics team doesn’t test for algae or bacteria in city-operated splash pads, because it has two levels of sanitation that include chlorine. The amoeba, known as N. fowleri, is sensitive to chlorine. It’s used to kill the amoeba in pools and splash pads, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Health codes don’t require any additional testing because of the sanitation methods that are used, APH said.

“APH performs routine inspections annually during the operational season of Public Interactive Water Features and Fountains (e.g. splash pads).  At each inspection, Environmental Health Officers perform chemical tests on the water to confirm that the operational water chemicals are being maintained at required levels,” a statement from APH said.

The amoeba cannot survive in a properly cleaned, maintained and disinfected swimming pool, the CDC said.

In the case of the splash pad in Arlington where the boy died of primary amebic meningoencephalitis, caused by the amoeba getting into a nasal cavity then working its way up to the brain, a city audit revealed several parks with splash pads had lapses in water quality testing. The parents of the child are now suing the city of Arlington over their son’s death.

The amoeba thrives in warm freshwater, so a pool or splash pad that hasn’t been treated with chlorine can be a place where it lives. Typically, the amoeba lives in hot springs, lakes, rivers and in the soil. Simply drinking water that contains the amoeba won’t get you sick; the amoeba must enter the nasal cavity in a fashion that propels it toward the brain, where it’ll travel to and then destroy tissue.

Contracting primary amebic meningoencephalitis doesn’t happen often, the CDC said. Only 34 cases of the disease were reported between 2010 and 2019, but once a person gets it, it’s almost always fatal. The fatality rate associated with the disease is 97%, and according to the CDC, only four people have survived in 148 known infections since 1962.

In September 2019, a 10-year-old girl died after contracting the amoeba while swimming in the Brazos River. In October 2018, a man died after visiting the BSR Cable Park in Waco due to the same disease.

Learn which pools and splash pads are currently open in Austin online here.

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