CHARLOTTE (WTVD) --Health officials are on alert after an 18-year-old Ohio woman died Sunday after visiting the U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte.
Her suspected cause of death is being listed as Primary Amebic Meningoencephalitis -- a rare infection caused by Naegleria fowleri. This one-celled organism is not harmful if swallowed, but can cause serious injury, even death, if contaminated water is forced up the nose.
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The infections are extremely rare; there's been fewer than 10 cases reported annually in the country in the last 53 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The amoeba is "naturally present" in warm lakes during warmer weather when the water is typically warmer. An infected person can experience sickness up to nine days following the exposure.
Officials from DHHS sent out a press release Wednesday morning alerting of an investigation regarding PAM. Triangle residents who spoke with ABC11 were unaware of the amoeba, but did tell of the water's condition at time.
"Well, whenever you're out there you just have to not try and breathe in the water," said 16-year-old Cade Collins, who was enjoying a day at Sandling Beach at Falls Lake with his friends. "Because every single time you go to the beach you get the water up your nose and it stings."
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Dr. Michael Plescia, Mecklenburg County Health Director, said in a Wednesday news conference that "people need to realize this is a very rare infection." He continued by saying, "I do think people need to be aware that when they go into open sources of water ... there are some things in those bodies of water that can be harmful."
Collins says from what he knows now, he will still visit Sandling Beach. "If it's very rare, it's not likely going to happen to you," he noted. "If it starts happening more, I think I would avoid coming to the lake more and just finding other things to do instead of coming here all the time."
The CDC and DHHS pass along the following information on how people can protect themselves from Naegleria fowleri when they're out on the water.
Click here for more information about Primary Amebic Meningoencephalitis
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