October 4, 2007

Brain-Eating Amoeba Found in Tucson Water Wells: Microscopic Bug’s Presence Poses No Health Risks

By Josh Brodesky, The Arizona Daily Star, Tucson

Oct. 4--Brain-eating amoebas have taken up residence in Tucson's water supply as recent tests have shown their presence in 12 wells.

While the discovery of the killer amoeba, known as Naegleria Fowleri, is surprising to at least one UA researcher, the microscopic bug's presence in the Old Pueblo's water supply doesn't pose any health risks.

Tucson Water chlorinates its well water before distribution, killing the amoeba before the water hits taps; but the amoeba's presence in an underground water source is surprising and is likely the result of biodegradable oil used in pumps. The amoeba is usually found in surface water such as rivers and lakes.

"The organism is everywhere," said Charles Gerba, a microbiology professor with the University of Arizona's Department of Soil, Water and Environmental Science . "It feeds on bacteria."

Naegleria Fowleri has made headlines in recent weeks after it killed a 14-year-old boy who had gone swimming in Lake Havasu last month. Essentially, the amoebas enter the body through the nose and travel to the brain where they feed until the person dies. The only way to get infected is to snort water. A person can drink water that has Naegleria Fowleri and would never be infected.

While the amoeba sounds like something out of science fiction, people come in contact with it all the time. It lives in soil and is often present in warm bodies of water, particularly hot springs and lakes. Pools, if not chlorinated properly, can become homes to the microbes.

Read more in tomorrow's Arizona Daily Star


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