Water contamination concerns prompted Texas Governor Greg Abbott to declare a state of disaster for Brazoria County Sunday after a 6-year-old boy died from a deadly brain-eating parasite that was traced to a Houston-area city’s water supply.

An investigation of Josiah (Josh) McIntyre’s death earlier this month prompted Texas environmental officials to warn Brazoria County residents to avoid using all municipal tap water. The warning was issued when three of 11 water county water samples tested positive for the Naegleria fowleri amoeba, which can cause primary amebic meningoencephalitis. An N. fowleri infection can destroy the brain and cause death in less than a week.

Officials zero in on Lake Jackson

One of the samples tested came from Josh McIntyre’s Lake Jackson home. The other two positive tests came from samples taken at the Lake Jackson Civic Center’s Interactive Water Fountain and a fire hydrant, Lake Jackson City Manager Modesto Mundo said, according to Houston’s KTRK-TV.

In his warning about the water contamination, Gov. Abbott said the microbe posed “an imminent threat to public health and safety, including loss of life.”

On Saturday, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality warned all users of Brazosport’s water system to avoid using the water completely. The agency amended that warning later in the day saying, “the issue has been narrowed to the city of Lake Jackson’s water distribution system.”

Avoid swimming, splashing, and boil water

Texas environmental officials also advise Lake Jackson residents to boil any water they use from the tap, prevent water from entering the nose when “bathing, showering, washing your face, or swimming,” and prevent children from playing in the water.

Authorities said that they are “actively working on a plan to flush and disinfect the water system” but did not provide an estimated timeline for the project.

Josh had played at the civic center splash pad in late August before he became ill. He died at Texas Children’s Hospital on Sept. 8.

The Houston Chronicle reported that physicians tested Josh for COVID-19 and several other illnesses when he developed a fever, headache, and vomiting. By the time they discovered the cause of his illness it was too late to save him.

“We just want people to be aware that it’s out there,” his grandmother, Natalie McIntyre, said at a fundraising event for the family Saturday afternoon, according to the Houston Chronicle. “If you’ve been exposed or possibly exposed and you experience those symptoms, get to a hospital and let somebody know.”

Signs and symptoms

N. fowleri can cause symptoms similar to bacterial meningitis, including headaches, fever, and nausea and vomiting, making an initial diagnosis challenging, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In most cases, the parasite multiplies rapidly, causing neck stiffness, seizures, hallucinations, coma, and death.

The fatality rate for an N. fowleri infection is higher than 97%, according to the CDC. Only four people out of 145 known infected individuals in the U.S. from 1962 to 2018 have survived.

Toxic Exposure

Beasley Allen lawyers in our Toxic Torts Section work to protect people and property from toxic chemicals and environmental pollution that results from negligence and wrongful conduct. Our lawyers are currently investigating water contamination cases. If you have any questions, contact Rhon Jones, Rick Stratton, or Ryan Kral, lawyers in the Section. We often represent state and municipal governments in litigation of this type.

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