Teen girl dies from suspected amoeba after visiting Whitewater Center in NC

(Whitewater Center image courtesy WBTV; Seitz image courtesy Hill Funeral Home)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) – A teenage girl from Ohio died after contracting a very rare brain-eating amoeba that is believed to have been contracted while visiting the U.S. National White Water Center in Charlotte recently.

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services made the announcement Wednesday.

While the NCDHHS didn’t release the person’s identity, 18-year-old Lauren Seitz’s church, Church of the Messiah United Methodist, in Westerville, Ohio says the teen girl died Sunday. This is the same day NCDHHS says the victim died.

Seitz was part of a 32-person youth group tour that was on a music mission tour, according to the church, in Ohio, West Virginia and North Carolina. They sang at nursing homes and churches along the way.

Church officials say the tour started on June 4 and lasted through June 11. On June 8, the youth group had a “fun day” at the U.S. National Whitewater Center. Church officials say it was the only time on the trip that the group swam.

Ameeba is naturally present in warm lakes during the summer, NCDHHS says.

NCDHHS officials say the victim was in a raft that overturned at the Whitewater Center. Several other people also overturned on the raft.

“The suspected cause of death was attributed to Primary Amebic Meningoencephalitis, an infection caused by Naegleria fowleri, a one-celled organism that does not cause illness if swallowed, but can be fatal if forced up the nose,” NCDHHS says.

The Mecklenburg County Health Department, CDC, Ohio Department of Public Health, Franklin County Public Health Department, U.S. National White Water Center and the North Carolina Division of Public Health are assisting in the investigation.

“Naegleria fowleri infections are rare. According to the CDC, fewer than 10 cases have been reported annually in the United State during the last 53 years. This amoeba can cause severe illness up to nine days after exposure. A person cannot be infected with Naegleria fowleri by drinking contaminated water and the amoeba is not found in salt water,” NCDHHS says.

Church officials describe Lauren as a “beautiful person” and say they are proud of her faith and her willingness to share her music.

“She was excited for the tour and had a good time,” church officials said. “She was extremely talented and bright. She was a great friend.”

A letter sent out by Westerville South High School interim principal Mark White, the school Lauren attended, said counselors were going to be at the school Wednesday.

She was active in the Westerville South marching band and the group hosted a memorial and prayer vigil Tuesday night.

Lauren’s funeral will be held Saturday.

NCDHHS recommends people take the following precautions when in warmer areas where the infection has been more common:

  • Limit the amount of water going up your nose. Hold your nose shut, use nose clips, or keep your head above water when taking part in warm freshwater-related activities.
  • Avoid water-related activities in warm fresh water during periods of high water temperature and low water levels.
  • Avoid digging in, or stirring up, the sediment while taking part in water-related activities in shallow, warm fresh water areas.

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