Ohio teen dies from suspected amoeba after visiting Whitewater C - wistv.com - Columbia, South Carolina

Ohio teen dies from suspected amoeba after visiting Whitewater Center

Lauren Seitz, 18. (Photo provided to WBNS-10TV) Lauren Seitz, 18. (Photo provided to WBNS-10TV)
(Pam Escobar | WBTV) (Pam Escobar | WBTV)

A teenage girl from Ohio died after contracting a very rare brain-eating amoeba that is believed to have been contracted while visiting the U.S. National White Water Center (USNWC) in Charlotte recently.

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) made the announcement Wednesday.

While the NCDHHS didn't release the person's identity, 18-year-old Lauren Seitz's church, Church of the Messiah United Methodist, in Westerville, OH says the teen girl died Sunday. This is the same day NCDHHS says the victim died.

Health officials say the situation is still under investigation, but they don't believe the Whitewater Center is unsafe. Mecklenburg County Health Director Marcus Plescia said the water at the Whitewater center isn't considered a pool, and is not inspected by the county or the state.

"We're not going to close every lake and pond," Plescia said. The Whitewater Center says they conduct water quality tests each week.

"The US National Whitewater Center sources its water from the Charlotte Mecklenburg Utilities Department and two wells located on the premises. The water contained in the whitewater channels is in a closed loop system comprised entirely of concrete. The water is disinfected with ultraviolet radiation and filtered with a disc filtration system. The UV system is a constant application and treats 12 million gallons of water every 24 hours which is the total volume of the system. In addition to the UV treatment, the Center periodically augments that treatment through the injection of chlorine into the system," officials at USNWC said.


Health officials said they had a team out at the center Tuesday after learning about the incident, and "did not find anything."

"The levels of UV radiation disinfection utilized every day, continuously, at the Center are sufficient to “inactivate” the water born amoeba in question to an effective level of 99.99%," the USNWC said.

Seitz was part of a 32-person youth group tour that was on a music mission tour, according to the church, in Ohio, West Virginia and North Carolina. They sang at nursing homes and churches along the way.

"Lauren understood the overwhelming beauty and fragility of life with uncommon clarity and cared so deeply about the welfare of other people and this world we all share. Her genuine kindness and encouragement will continue to inspire and comfort everyone who knew her," Seitz's obituary read. 

Her parents established The Lauren Elisabeth Seitz Memorial Music Fund in their daughter's memory. 

Her parents established The Lauren Elisabeth Seitz Memorial Music Fund in their daughter's memory.

Church officials say the tour started on June 4 and lasted through June 11. On June 8, the youth group had a "fun day" at the U.S. National Whitewater Center. Church officials say it was the only time on the trip that the group swam.

Amoeba is naturally present in warm lakes during the summer, NCDHHS said.

NCDHHS officials say the victim was in a raft that overturned at the Whitewater Center. Several other people also overturned on the raft.

"The suspected cause of death was attributed to Primary Amebic Meningoencephalitis, an infection caused by Naegleria fowleri, a one-celled organism that does not cause illness if swallowed, but can be fatal if forced up the nose," NCDHHS says.

The Mecklenburg County Health Department, CDC, Ohio Department of Public Health, Franklin County Public Health Department, U.S. National White Water Center and the North Carolina Division of Public Health are assisting in the investigation.

"Naegleria fowleri infections are rare. According to the CDC, fewer than 10 cases have been reported annually in the United States during the last 53 years. This amoeba can cause severe illness up to nine days after exposure. A person cannot be infected with Naegleria fowleri by drinking contaminated water and the amoeba is not found in salt water," NCDHHS said.

Church officials describe Seitz as a "beautiful person" and say they are proud of her faith and her willingness to share her music.

"She was excited for the tour and had a good time," church officials said. "She was extremely talented and bright. She was a great friend."

A letter sent out by Westerville South High School interim principal Mark White, the school Seitz attended, said counselors were going to be at the school Wednesday.

She was active in the Westerville South marching band and the group hosted a memorial and prayer vigil Tuesday night.

Seitz's funeral will be held Saturday at The Church of the Messiah on N State Street in Westervile, Ohio. Visit Hill Funeral Home's website for more information. 

NCDHHS recommends people take the following precautions when in warmer areas where the infection has been more common:

  • Limit the amount of water going up your nose. Hold your nose shut, use nose clips, or keep your head above water when taking part in warm freshwater-related activities.
  • Avoid water-related activities in warm fresh water during periods of high water temperature and low water levels.
  • Avoid digging in, or stirring up, the sediment while taking part in water-related activities in shallow, warm fresh water areas.

"The USNWC is working closely with the Centers for Disease Control and the Mecklenburg County Health Department to investigate the matter further," USNWC officials said. 

Dr. Jennifer Cope with the Centers for Disease Control said she will be testing the water at the USNWC for the amoeba.

“Given that this center is an open water source, it sits open to the environment the amoeba is found both in soil and water,” Cope said, “So, if there is soil run off if there’s rain run off these are opportunities for the water to become contaminated with the amoeba.”

The CDC says some test results could be back in the next couple of days. Another test could take up to a week for results.

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