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Teen Dies from Rare Brain-Eating Amoeba after Visiting Whitewater Rafting Center

The Short of It

An Ohio teen dies after being infected with a brain-eating amoeba after visiting a North Carolina water park.

The Lowdown

What was supposed to be a fun outing with a church group ended in tragedy for 18-year-old Lauren Seitz. The teen visited the U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte, N.C., on June 8, and by June 19, she was dead.

Jim Wilson, senior pastor at Church of the Messiah United Methodist Church in Westerville, Ohio, told WCMH-TV about the Denison University-bound teenager, "She was an incredible person, so full of life."

Lauren Seitz/Westerville Funeral Home

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Mitzi Kline, of the Franklin County Department of Public Health Department in Ohio, confirmed it was a brain-eating amoeba that killed Lauren. The CDC is currently on hand to test the water at the center.

Still, Mecklenburg County Health Director Marcus Plescia said at a press conference, "We think the Whitewater center is as safe as any body of open water. One of the things you have to realize is any time you go swimming in a lake or pond or any open water that's not treated the way a swimming pool is treated, there are things in that water that can cause illness."

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In this case, it is believed this recent high school graduate contracted primary amebic meningoencephalitis, an infection caused by Naegleria fowleri. This organism, which is naturally present in fresh water all over the world, is harmless if swallowed, but can be fatal when forced up one's nose, according to the CDC.

"The deceased's only known underwater exposure was believed to be when riding in a raft with several others that overturned at the U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte," said the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, according to People magazine.

We don't know what Lauren's exact symptoms were, but a central nervous system infection of this nature will usually induce fever, nausea, vomiting, headaches, loss of balance, and then eventually, seizures and hallucinations about five days post-infection. Although Lauren died 11 days after visiting the Whitewater Center, death from PAM can take place as quickly as in 5 days.

The Upshot

For its part, the center said this in a statement: "The U.S. National Whitewater Center conducts water quality tests every week. Based on these tests and all available information, at all times, the USNWC has been in compliance with all required water quality standards and meets the requirements of all regulatory standards and authorities. Furthermore, the USNWC has requested additional testing specific to this issue in an abundance of caution. The USNWC is working closely with the Centers for Disease Control and the Mecklenburg County Health Department to investigate the matter further."

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It's important to point out that infections of this nature are exceedingly rare, with just 138 cases having been reported in the U.S. in the past half-century.

Of course, this is little comfort to Lauren's parents, James and Heidi Seitz, who have established The Lauren Elisabeth Seitz Memorial Music Fund in their daughter's memory.

On a personal note, I used to live near this park, which serves as a training ground for Olympians. It was definitely a popular destination for families to go whitewater rafting. We also live on a lake now, and my girls are always playing in the water and jumping off the dock. I know it's rare that a person would get this type of infection, but it's so very scary nonetheless.

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