A U.S. Whitewater Center in Charlotte, North Carolina has closed until officials can determine whether the water is safe for humans. The closure comes after a teenager visiting the center from Ohio died from a brain-eating amoeba found in the water. Officials tested the water after the incident and found it tested positive for the amoeba that caused the girl’s death.
Teen possibly exposed when raft overturned
Lauren Seitz, 18, of Westerville, Ohio, was visiting the whitewater center with her church group. It appeared the girl’s only time underwater, when she could have been exposed to the amoeba, was when her raft overturned. Naegleria fowleri, the single-celled organism found in the water, gets into the human brain by being forced through the nose and sinus passages. The organism is not considered dangerous if it is swallowed with the water it lives in.
Seitz died on June 19 from a condition known as primary amebic meningoencephalitis, a brain infection caused by Naegleria fowleri. The condition is very rare, only infecting 37 people between 2006 and 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, the condition is highly fatal with a survival rate of just around three percent.
Officials from the whitewater center told local media sources that the water for the park comes from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities Department, as well as two wells located at the site. The water system is designed to produce various categories of rapids for rafters of different skill levels. The water is also filtered and sanitized by chlorine, while ultraviolet radiation is used to “inactivate” the amoeba.
Although the system is thought to be “99.99 percent effective,” according to the whitewater center, it was not enough to protect Seitz. The amoeba makes its way into the brain, destroying brain tissue and causing swelling and eventual death. The most common place to find the amoeba is in warm freshwater lakes and rivers. It is not found in ocean water or properly chlorinated swimming pools.
While Naegleria fowleri is a frightening water risk, it is certainly not the most common. While only 37 cases of the infection have been reported in a decade, the CDC reports that between 2001 and 2010, there were more than 34,000 deaths by drowning.
Other risks at water and amusement parks
Water parks in general may be riskier than other types of amusement parks today, NJ.com found. In a 2014 report, the publication found that the majority of incidents at parks stemmed from water slides, with 123 incidents over a five-year span in New Jersey alone. There were also 42 incidents on water rapids. Tammori Petty, a spokesperson for the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, attributes the higher number of incidents on water rides to the fact that these rides do not tend to be as restrained or predictable as rides on dry land.
Nevertheless, there are injuries and deaths caused by other amusement park rides each year as well. Roller coasters top the list for most dangerous amusement park rides, followed by Ferris wheels, sky rides and spinning rides. In New Jersey, go-karts are another amusement that tends to see a high number of incidents. These carts do not typically run on tracks that can actually guide them around the course.
If you are injured on an amusement park or water park ride, you may be eligible for legal action against the park, ride operator or even the manufacturer of the ride. In some cases, lack of proper maintenance or negligence may contribute to the accident, which could make the person responsible for the ride liable for your injuries, medical bills and other losses.
- ABC 11, U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte Shuts Down after Amoebic Infection, http://abc11.com/uncategorized/us-national-whitewater-center-in-charlotte-shuts-down-after-amoebic-infection/1400545/
- CDC, Naegleria Fowleri General Information, http://www.cdc.gov/parasites/naegleria/general.html
- Live Science, Five Key Facts about Brain-Eating Amoebas, http://www.livescience.com/55158-brain-eating-amoeba-facts.html
- Amusement Safety Organization, Park Injury Totals, http://amusementsafety.org/
- Nj.com, Terrified of Roller Coasters? More Accidents Happen on Water Slides, State Data Shows, http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2014/06/more_accidents_happen_in_water_rides_and_go-karts_data_shows.html
- Huffington Post, Deadliest Amusement Park Rides, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/09/deadliest-amusement-park-rides_n_3728188.html