Disturbing twist after boy, 6, dies from brain-eating amoeba

·3-min read

A six-year-old boy’s death from a rare brain-eating amoeba sparked an urgent water warning in eight communities in the US state of Texas.

Josiah McIntyre, from Texan city Lake Jackson, complained of a headache to his mother, Maria Castillo, on September 3. The next day he had a fever and started vomiting.

Ms Castillo suspected a viral infection and took her little boy to the Texas Children’s Hospital where he was admitted to ICU.

A photo of Josiah McIntyre, who died from a brain-eating amoeba, in a cap on the left. On the right he is pictured with his mother, Maria Castillo, and sister.
Josiah McIntyre (left). Pictured right is the boy with his mother, Maria Castillo, and sister. Source: ABC16/Facebook

Josiah was tested for the flu, strep throat and COVID-19. All of the tests came back negative leaving doctors baffled.

“They were treating him for meningitis, for encephalitis and pretty much at this point, just trying to figure out what was wrong with him,” Ms Castillo told US news outlet The Facts.

On September 8, test results confirmed Josiah had the brain-eating amoeba, naegleria fowleri, and later that evening he died.

“He was an active little boy, he was a really good big brother. He just loved and cared about a lot of people,” Ms Castillo told ABC6.

The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports naegleria fowleri is normally found in warm freshwater like lakes, rivers and hot springs, but Ms Castillo said Josiah hadn’t been to any natural bodies of water in 2020.

“We haven’t been to the river this year. We don’t go lake jumping or river jumping,” she told KHOU11.

A photo of a water pipe at a lake. Authorities have issued a water warning for people in Lake Jackson.
Authorities have issued a water warning for people in Lake Jackson. Source: Getty Images, stock

Josiah had played at the civic centre splash pad in late August before becoming ill, which prompted city leaders in Lake Jackson to order tests of water samples and close the splash pad as a precaution.

Three water samples out of 11 taken tested positive for genetic material related to naegleria fowleri, including a test of a water hose at Josiah’s home, according to ABC13.

It is still unclear how Josiah came into contact with the amoeba.

Ms Castillo told ABC13 although she is “angry and upset and sad and heartbroken" over the loss of her son, she feels that finding the source of Josiah’s infection will give her peace of mind.

"It really means a lot to me because we want to know as a family for peace of mind. I know it doesn't bring him back. The fact that we know how he got it, how he contracted it, gives us peace of mind," she said.

Eight communities issued with deadly water warning

Texas officials on Saturday (local time) lifted a warning for all but one Houston-area community to stop using tap water because it might be tainted with a deadly brain-eating microbe.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality warned the Brazosport Water Authority late on Friday (local time) of the potential contamination of its water supply by naegleria fowleri.

The authority initially warned eight communities not to use tap water for any reason except to flush toilets, but it lifted that warning for all communities but Lake Jackson.

The city of more than 27,000 residents is the site of the authority's water treatment plant.

The advisory was also cancelled for two state prisons and Dow Chemical's massive Freeport works.

It will remain in place until the authority's water system has been thoroughly flushed and tests on water samples show the system's water is again safe to use.

The authority said in a statement it was unclear how long it would be before the tap water was again safe.

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