RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — An Ohio woman who went whitewater rafting in North Carolina has died of an infection after being exposed to an amoeba naturally present in warm fresh water.
North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control suspects Naegleria fowleri (nuh-GLEER’-ee-uh FOW’-lur-ee), a one-celled organism that can cause primary amebic meningoencephalitis.
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 at the U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte.
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 ultraviolent radiation sufficient to “inactivate” the amoeba, a process the center described 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.
But the center “is as safe as any body of water. Any time you go into a lake or pond, there are things in the water that can cause illnesses,” he said. “We’re not going to close every lake and pond.”
The center’s spokesman, Eric Osterhus, said in an email that it was operating normally Wednesday and helping health investigators at the site.
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.
“This was an enormous loss for the band, but also to the Westerville community and family,” band director John Laswell said in a Facebook post. “Lauren just graduated in May and was one of the most talented, humble and caring students I’ve ever taught.”