... and the brain-eating amoebas that can kill you if you use them.
Lots of people, naturally, are covering this terrifying story. And if Louisiana's Department of Health and Hospitals issues an advisory against using neti pots as a result, I would be the last person in the world to tell you to ignore that.
But a hidden element in this story about hidden elements in the water you stick up your nose is not the amoeba -- it's the water. And its source.
Because I've written a lot about infrastructure, I tend to be in contact with a lot of water infrastructure people. And coincidentally, within the last three weeks, before the story about the Louisiana neti pot victims showed up, someone highly informed about water systems had just told me that if I went to New Orleans I ought to buy bottled water. And mind you, that wasn't probably -- that was a directive: don't drink the water there.
Even this post, by Jennifer Frazer in her excellent Artful Amoeba blog, contains the following caveat about the bugs: "Somehow they can slip through the microbial Fort Knox of some U.S. water treatment plants and make it into tap water (at least in Louisiana)."
At least in Louisiana indeed.
The point isn't that New Orleans or Louisiana water isn't safe to drink -- I don't know that, though I take seriously warnings from water infrastructure types. And the point isn't that somehow if Louisiana water is unsafe that means it's fine for you to stick as much of your own tap water up your nose if you like (though my wife neti pots here in Raleigh, NC, and she's still doing okay). It means that like everything that happens in this our-infrastructure-is-crumbling epoch, the neti pot killers should be considered less a two-minute health panic than a teachable moment. That is, as I've written elsewhere, every story is also in some way an infrastructure story.
We need to be thinking about how we treat our water. About how we manage and inspect the systems that treat our water. About who we hire to treat our water, and how we regulate those people, companies, and systems. And the same with power and bandwidth and transportation and everything else, though if something goes wrong with water you tend to know about it a lot quicker and to suffer a lot worse.
Again, please hear me: I'm not making any claims about the safety of the water in Louisiana, though it seems we can all agree you probably ought not to stick it up your nose. I'm just saying that when the water we drink turns out to contain bugs that kill you almost on contact, maybe we have a bigger problem than neti pots.