Girl,18, Dies After Visiting the Whitewater Center
An 18-year-old Ohio teenager tragically died after contracting a rare amoeba that attacked her brain. The teenage girl was rafting with the rest of her church group at the U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte, N.C. The amoeba, known as Naegleria fowleri, flourishes in warm or hot freshwater locations, such as rivers and lakes, as well as soil.
The amoeba travels into the body via the nose. From there, it enters the brain where it infects and attacks the tissue, causing swelling and bleeding. The infection is rare but almost always fatal. After her death, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed the presence of the amoeba in the girl’s spinal fluid.
The teenager’s church group was traveling throughout Ohio, singing at churches and nursing homes in the region. A recreational day was included in the trip at the Whitewater Center. Health officials believe that the amoeba was contracted at this location as this was the only time the group was in the water.
The popular water attraction reported that it receives its water from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities Department as well as two wells on its property. The water is treated with UV radiation and chlorine, which have a 99.99 percent efficiency level of killing the amoeba. The CDC, health and state officials are working with the water center to prevent incidences from occurring in the future.
According to the CDC, the amoeba is commonly known for its ability to attack the brain and is extremely rare. Only 37 infections have been reported in the past 10 years in the United States. Cases have also been linked to swimming pools that are not properly treated with chemicals, water slides and in contaminated tap water.
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Most infections in the United States occur during the summer months in the Southern part of the country. Freshwater lakes and rivers are often used to cool off when temperatures rise, increasing the likelihood of the amoeba. After a 2014 death from the amoeba, new disinfectant guidelines were added to prevent future infections from occurring.
Symptoms normally appear five days after the amoeba has entered the body but can appear within one to nine days. On average, patients die five days after contracting the amoeba. Typical symptoms include fever, headache, nausea and vomiting, and has a 97 percent chance of being fatal.
Only three out of 138 people who are known to have contracted the infection have survived in the United States. Survivors are thought to have had less virulent forms of the amoeba. Recent studies have shown promising treatment with miltefosin, a drug typically used to treat breast cancer.
The amoeba is not harmful if swallowed, but precautions should be taken to prevent water from entering the nasal passageway. Holding the nose, using nose clips or keeping the head above water while participating in freshwater activities helps prevent infection from occurring.
Those who wish to participate in freshwater activities should avoid doing so during periods where water levels are low or temperatures are high. The soil that surrounds freshwater areas should also be avoided. Keep children from digging and playing in this soil.
Officials hope that additional precautions to prevent the infection from entering the body and water disinfectants can help stop future deaths from occurring. Continual research continues to find the best way to treat the infection once it has occurred. Finding new treatments may stop other family and friends from experiencing the sorrow of losing a loved one too soon.