Samples of a brain-eating amoeba responsible for the June 19 death of Ohio teen Lauren Seitz were unusually prevalent in test specimen taken from the U.S. National Whitewater Center. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated the contamination likely occurred due to a faulty water sanitation system at the park.
Seitz, 18, was thought to have contacted the rare Naegleria Fowleri amoeba when water entered her nasal passage during a church rafting trip at the Charlotte, North Carolina water park. Seitz’ official cause of death was listed as primary amebic meningoencephalitis (or PAM). Only 35 cases of PAM have been reported in the past ten years; however, the infection carries a near 100 percent mortality rate.
The Centers for Disease Control stated that all eleven samples taken from the park tested positive for Naegleria Fowleri. Infectious disease physician Jennifer Cope of the CDC explained how the water may have become contaminated to CNN.
“Our findings here are significant. We saw multiple positive samples at levels we’ve not previously seen in environmental samples. The amoeba were likely able to grow to such concentrations because of the amount of dirt and debris in the water, which turned the water “turbid” or murky, and interfered with the effectiveness of the sanitation process. When you add chlorine to water like that the chlorine reacts with all that debris and is automatically consumed. It is no longer present to inactivate a pathogen like Naegleria.”
The National Whitewater Center claims to be the world’s largest man-made whitewater river. As such, the park wasn’t subject to health inspection or the normally rigorous governmental regulations other amusement parks must pass in order to operate.
At a press conference to address the situation, Country Medical Director Dr. Stephen Keener stated the following.
“They were not required to be a regulated facility, but that is being questioned for the future. Keener further stated, “We don’t know very much about how Naegleria lives and grows in systems like this, but factors such as soil runoff, uneven surfaces, stones on the bottom where slime can grow, along with shallow channels that allow water to warm quickly on hot days, makes it a unique environment. There will be challenging conversations ahead with various experts in aquatic sector and environmental engineers about the best ways to address the situation.”
At the time of her death, Lauren Seitz of Westerville, North Carolina was just three weeks removed from high-school graduation. Seitz became gravely sick a week following her ill-fated rafting trip. Experts explain infection from the amoeba only occurs when affected water passes through the nose and enters the brain. Unfortunately, it is believed Seitz was fatally contaminated when her raft flipped over, submerging into the water.
Fast facts about the deadly amoeba include its prevalence of being found in warm pools that are not adequately chlorinated, and in water heaters, the CDC says. The amoeba can subsist in temperatures as high as 115 degrees Fahrenheit (46 degrees Celsius), and can sometimes survive at higher temperatures for shorter periods.
According to the CDC via Live Science:
“People do not become infected withNaegleria fowleri by swallowing water. Rather, infections happen when water containing this amoeba goes up the nose and enters the brain. Once in the brain, the amoeba destroys brain tissue, which results in brain swelling and usually death.
Early symptoms, which include headache, fever, nausea and vomiting, can occur from one to nine days after infection.”
In the wake of this tragic death and CDC findings the white water section of the park has been closed pending efforts to remove the brain-eating amoeba. Park officials have stated that The National Whitewater Center will remain open for July 4 holiday activities.
[Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images]