NewsChannel 11 Questions Agencies About Lake LBJ Deaths - KCBD NewsChannel 11 Lubbock

9/6/07

NewsChannel 11 Questions Agencies About Lake LBJ Deaths

Lab tests are underway, trying to determine whether a parasite killed a Lubbock man.  Colby Sawyer died Monday at University Medical Center, after coming down with an ear infection at Lake LBJ, near Austin.

The 22-year-old had a wake boarding accident that busted his ear drum.  An autopsy revealed evidence of swelling in the brain, which may have been caused by a parasitic or bacterial infection.

A similar infection killed a Round Rock boy last month. He reportedly came down with Meningitis after swimming in the same lake.

Right now, the state health department has not connected either of these deaths to the waters at Lake LBJ.  

NewsChannel 11 spent Thursday learning more about the parasite, called Naegleria fowleri, that's possibly involved in this case.

The parasite is pretty common; it's the infections that are very rare. We set out to answer two specific questions: Should Lake LBJ be temporarily closed? & How safe are local lakes?

NewsChannel 11 contacted the Lower Colorado River Authority Thursday. They are the reservoir containing facility for Lake LBJ.  A representative told us since no connection had been made between the death of Colby Sawyer, the 12-year-old from Round Rock, and the lake, it is premature to make any changes.

The representative says, you swim at your own risk in any Texas lake and claimed there is no way to test the water for the parasite.

Texas Tech Health Sciences Center, however, says testing is possible, but imperfect because a sample may not contain the amoeba, but the lake could.

"This organism needs to have warm water, generally spring fed or mountain stream type water is too cold. It needs to be around 80-degrees," Lubbock's Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Thomas Beaver said. 

Beaver is from Florida, and he says ponds there would sometimes test positive for this parasite.

"We would just ban swimming until the weather cooled off," Beaver said. 

We asked Beaver is that the answer for Lake LBJ? 

"If we get a positive diagnosis that would be concern, but right now, we don't have that, so until we see what the diagnosis is, I think I would have to hold judgement," Beaver said. 

For our second question, we contacted the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. The folks who test our lakes are in Abilene.

They tell us they do not test for this parasite, and according to the Health Sciences Center, very few if any places do because infections are so rare.

"Even in water that's infested with his organism, the infection is very rare," Beaver said. 

Again, state health officials have not connected either of these deaths to the lake, but they are doing tests to find if a connection is present.

We've been taking some calls so to clarify, this particular incident with Sawyer happened at Horseshoe Bay, which is the same water and a part of Lake LBJ.

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