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Potentially deadly amoeba found in private water system serving about 8,400 in north Louisiana

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BATON ROUGE, Louisiana — A potentially deadly amoeba has been found in a private water system serving about 8,400 people in Sterlington and the north Monroe area, though authorities say the water is safe to drink.

The North Monroe Water System is the fourth around the state where tests by the Department of Health and Hospitals have found the Naegleria fowleri amoeba this summer. The department, in a release Tuesday, said the water was safe to drink.

Health officials have said in the past that the amoeba is dangerous only if it gets high up in the nose, where openings for the olfactory nerve can let it invade the brain. It has killed three people exposed in Louisiana since 2011; two of them had used neti pots to irrigate their sinuses and the third was a boy who had played on a slip-and-slide.

It's also been found this summer in St. Bernard Parish, the Donaldsonville area and the Houma area. Another 23 systems have been found clear of the one-celled creatures, which thrive in warm fresh water.

The North Monroe Water System was notified Tuesday and operators say they'll begin a 60-day high-chlorine regimen to kill the amoeba, according to a health department news release.

The location where the amoeba was found did not meet the chlorine level the state has required since late 2013 to ensure it is safe from the amoeba, according to the statement. It said the system was tested for the amoeba in August because the North Monroe Water System had failed to meet that disinfectant level.

"Three other sites on the system tested negative for Naegleria fowleri, although two of these did not meet the requirement for the minimum disinfectant residual level," it said.

Exposure to the infection typically occurs when people swim or dive in warm freshwater lakes and rivers.

Infections are very rare. In the 10 years from 2001 to 2010, 32 infections were reported in the U.S. Thirty were infected by contaminated recreational water and two by water from a geothermal drinking water supply.

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