U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte shuts down after amoebic infection

ByDeJuan Hoggard and The Associated Press WTVD logo
Saturday, June 25, 2016
U.S. National Whitewater Center shuts down
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Lauren Seitz

CHARLOTTE (WTVD) -- The U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte says it is voluntarily shutting down after an Ohio woman who went whitewater rafting there died of an infection after being exposed to an amoeba naturally present in warm fresh water.

Officials said water samples taken at the center came back positive for Naegleria fowleri, a one-celled organism that can cause primary amebic meningoencephalitis.

The center will stay closed until the source is found and it can be dealt with.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control says the organism does not cause illness if swallowed, but can be deadly if forced up the nose. The CDC said only 10 cases or so are reported each year, nearly all of them fatal.

Lauren Seitz of Westerville, Ohio, visited North Carolina with her church group. The 18-year-old's only known underwater exposure was thought to be when her raft overturned.

The center said in a statement that it gets its water from the Charlotte Mecklenburg Utilities Department and two wells located at the site, a system of concrete channels designed to imitate various classes of rapids.

The water is filtered and disinfected with chlorine as well as ultraviolet radiation thought to be sufficient to "inactivate" the amoeba, a process the center described earlier this week as 99.99 percent effective.

The center's water is not inspected by the county or state because the man-made system is not considered to be a public pool, said Dr. Marcus Plescia, Mecklenburg County's health director.

Seitz was drum major of the marching band at Westerville South High School, The Columbus Dispatch reported. Band members and classmates honored her with a candlelight vigil Tuesday night. Her funeral is Saturday.

So what does the brain-eating amoeba mean for you as you visit Falls Lake, Jordan Lake or other bodies of water this summer?

"It's not clear that statistically you could test for it and determine how likely it was that someone got sick." said Michael Orbon, Wake County Water Quality Director. The question is whether it's going to lodge into your sinuses and cause the disease. And that's not going to be resolved by a test that says we didn't find any."

Experts said children younger than 13 run the greatest risk because they often play rougher in the water and stir up mud and sediment where the amoeba is most likely to be found. Still the risk is relatively small.

"If you look back through CDC data as far back as the 1960s, I think in total, there's only been a little over 100 documented cases of this. It's something that the overwhelming majority of people will never see or run into in their life." said Dr Cameron Wolfe, Assistant Professor of Medicine Duke Hospital.

"We've probably probably run into this organism frequently and have just never known because we don't get sick. So it's an extremely rare situation." Wolfe said.

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