A fun and frolicsome white-water rafting excursion for recent high school graduates last year in North Carolina led to a dreadful consequence, when one of the grads, a young woman named Lauren Seitz, became infected by a “brain-eating amoeba” that ultimately caused her death. The teens were members of an Ohio youth music ministry group on an eight-day trip to sing at churches and nursing homes in Ohio, Virginia, and North Carolina. The trip included a white-water rafting experience at the U.S. National Whitewater Center, an outdoor recreational park in Charlotte. One group member told the Washington Post, “We went around three times. Everybody fell out. It was fun. …We helped each other back in.”
Shortly after, however, Seitz developed a headache and congestion and was hospitalized. Her doctors suspected meningitis, but Seitz died of meningoencephalitis, a disease caused by infection with Naegleria fowleri. Commonly referred to as a “brain-eating amoeba,” Naegleria fowleri, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “is commonly found in warm freshwater (e.g. lakes, rivers, and hot springs) and soil.” It can also occur when contaminated water from other sources, such as “inadequately chlorinated swimming pool water or heated and contaminated tap water,” enters through the nose. Of the 140 individuals in the U.S. known to have contracted the infection in the past 50 years, only four survived.
One year later, Seitz’s father has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. National Whitewater Center, claiming negligence and asking for $1 million in punitive damages. The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services’ investigation had found that the amoeba was “present throughout the white-water feature.” NBC4 reported that the lawsuit claims the Whitewater Center failed to properly chlorinate the water, used an inadequate filter system, failed to properly regulate the temperature of the water and failed to warn visitors about the possible danger of the amoeba. According to the lawsuit, chlorine levels at the facility were ten times lower than they should have been.
After Seitz’s death, the U.S. National Whitewater Center temporarily closed its white-water facilities. Its website said, “the fast-water channels would be drained, dried and scrubbed to kill any vestiges of the amoeba.” The Whitewater Center is now required to be inspected and obtain an annual permit from the county health department.
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