The U.S. National Whitewater Center (USNWC) in North Carolina has shut down its rafting activities after Lauren Seitz, a teenager from Ohio, contracted an extremely rare infection and died last Sunday. Most of 11 water samples tested positive for amoeba DNA, a one-celled organism that caused the 18-year-old visitor a lethal brain infection that typically leads to fever, headache, vomiting, seizures, confusion, hallucination and loss of balance.

Symptoms appear up to nine days after exposure and death tends to occur within five days. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed that the teenager had died of exposure to amoeba Naegleria Fowleri.

Amoeba kills Ohio teen
The USNWC in North Carolina decided to shut down its rafting activities after Lauren Seitz died from an Amoeba infection. Credit:

The CDC says the fatality rate is more than 97 percent. State health authorities pointed out that the amoeba can only infect people if the organism goes up their nose. In fact, the center’s officials said that as far as they knew, Seitz had been only exposed to underwater organisms when riding in a raft that overturned during a visit with her church youth group earlier this month.

She was in Ohio visiting churches and nursing homes when the group, which had been performing music in these places, decided to have some fun at the center.

Health authorities recommend people to hold their nose shut or keep their heads above water when doing activities in warm freshwater areas, as well as to avoid such activities when temperatures are unusually high, and water levels are low. But the organism can also have a presence in sediment and wet soil, which is why people are advised to avoid disturbing sediment in areas where there are chances of finding amoeba.

The USNWC is cooperating with CDC state officials in the investigation of the teenager’s death, which left a heartbroken family who loved the way Seitz was committed to protecting the environment, as expressed by the victim’s father James Seitz in a statement sent to an NBC-affiliate in Ohio. Lauren Seitz even planned to study Environmental Science.

The Charlotte-area center is open for all activities that are not related to the whitewater rafting. State health authorities informed that the amoeba is often found in warm lakes, rivers, and springs when temperatures are high.

Measures to keep people safe at the center are not enough

County utilities and two wells on its premises provide water to the USNWC. Experts use ultraviolet radiation to disinfect the water, which is filtered and constantly given a chlorine dose.

“On behalf of the USNWC, I wish to express our sincere condolences and sympathies to Lauren and her family,” chief executive Jeffrey Wise said in a statement, AS QUOTED BY The Guardian. “Our focus is always on stressing safety and risk in the most appropriate manner possible.”

Wise added in the statement that the center uses levels of continuous UV radiation disinfection every day to “inactivate” the water-borne, brain-eater organism to an effective level of almost 100 percent.

However, Wise admitted that the extensive measures the non-profit takes are not enough to prevent all injuries due to the nature of the activities.

Dr. Marcus Plescia, head of the Mecklenburg County Health Department, told People that it had not been a surprise to see the water samples testing positive for amoeba.

“This is a microorganism that’s very common. If we sampled lakes and rivers, we’d probably find this… and you need to realize because of where the water center is right on the Catawba river, there’s run off, there’s all kinds of ways this organism could get in,” Plescia told the magazine.

Plescia added that authorities were making sure that the amoeba concentrations were low even though they were fighting a very difficult organism to eliminate. The doctor acknowledged that the USNWC had a smart disinfection system, but also noted it had been ineffective in this case because it had failed to keep the amoeba out of the water.

No outbreaks of the rare infection

Wise said there are no outbreaks of the rare infection, which is known as Primary Amebic Meningoencephalitis, and the CDC remarks the same. There have been only 138 reported cases in the United States in the last 53 years. In contrast, there have been on average ten drowning deaths a year over the past decade.

Recent deaths have been reported in Texas and Louisiana, which is not so rare given that warmer waters are typical of southern states. However, the amoeba can also be found in the north although the chances are slimmer.

Lauren’s final request

Lauren’s friends and family were set to celebrate her life and love of music on Saturday in Ohio at The Church of the Messiah, where she devoted her time to sing and play hand bells in the youth choirs. According to an obituary published by her family on Hill Funeral, she had powerful and transformative experiences during the latest tour with the choir.

Amoeba kills Ohio teen
Picture of Lauren Seitz. Credit:

She asked not to be sent flowers. Instead, her parents James and Heidi Seitz decided to establish The Lauren Elisabeth Seitz Memorial Music Fund to honor their daughter’s compassion toward others and her passion for music.

The Seitz family will use donations to support all music programs at Westerville South. Those willing to help can either send checks to First Financial Bank, 780 South State St. Westerville, OH 43081, or contact the Westerville branch of First Financial Bank at 614-776-5300 and ask a banker to help them with their so-much-valuable gift.

Source: The Guardian