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Deadly amoeba found in Charlotte County home, Department of Health says

DOH: Amoeba found in single faucet, while all other tests come back negative
Posted at 10:31 AM, Mar 10, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-11 08:59:39-05

CHARLOTTE COUNTY, Fla. — The Florida Department of Health has detected a deadly amoeba in a Charlotte County home, the agency said on Friday morning. This comes two weeks after the CDC confirms a Charlotte County resident died on Feb. 20.

The DOH says lab results identified the location where the amoeba may have been contracted.

"We have seen at the time of testing, the Nagleria fowleri was only seen at one very specific location: a private residence," said Jae Williams, press secretary of the Florida Department of Health.

It's not clear whose home it was found in, whether the victim or another resident's home. Williams says they tested multiple faucets in the home, along with testing other residences.

"Multiple locations were tested, including the public utility plants and this is the only place the Nagleria was found," he explained.

The CDC says the person who died had been using a sinus rinse daily with unboiled tap water, though distilled water is what people should use when doing this.

Nagleria fowleri infections are usually associated with swimming in freshwater lakes and rivers, but can be found in tap water. It's extremely rare and it can only infect people through the nose, not by ingesting it.

Since the utility plants were negative, Fox 4 went to Florida Gulf Coast University professor Dr. Barry Rosen, an expert in microorganisms.

"I don't know if they're on well water or not, but if they are on well water that isn't being chlorinated enough and there somehow there's a break in the soil, it's possible," he said when asked about how the amoeba tested positive in a single faucet.

On March 8, Charlotte County Utilities, in conjunction with the Peace River Manasota Regional Water Supply Authority, announced a temporary change to the disinfection process for its drinking water supply.

The change is from March 15, 2023, through May 14, 2023. The water will be disinfected with free chlorine rather than chlorine combined with ammonia (chloramines). This conversion to free chlorine from chloramines allows the utility to perform a distribution system purge as recommended by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection for water utilities using chloramines as their primary disinfectant.

However, officials did not say if this is directly related to the amoeba when Fox 4 asked the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

"It's better to just know that they are doing what they can," Rosen said. "The free chlorination is the best approach. Running a very long period of time at that higher chlorination level, free chlorine, it will destroy any organisms."

He says another reason for the long period of disinfecting is it'll give people a chance to run their water so the chlorine can cycle through.

"At this time, there is no indication that the amoeba poses any further threat to the community," the statement said. "Investigations will continue to be conducted to further ensure water safety."

"Essentially at this point we’re finalizing our sequencies and making sure all the testing that needs to be done is completed and that we have solid affirmative evidence," Williams explained.

He said this could take another week or longer. Williams also added emphasis on water safety, stating if you are out swimming in stagnant, hot fresh water you should consider wearing nose plugs.

When you're at home, the DOH suggests to flush out your water.

"If you’re not confident the water’s been used recently, go ahead and flush all your water spickets out," Williams said. "The water is safe to drink."

On March 9, Charlotte County commissioners were slated to have a water quality update during a budget meeting. In the middle of the meeting, they pulled the water quality item off the agenda saying adding it was a mistake.

"DOH-Charlotte, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), public utilities, and community partners continue to coordinate and have implemented protective measures to neutralize any potential risk," the statement said.

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