The parents of Lauren Seitz brought a wrongful death claim after the 18-year-old contracted a deadly infection from amoeba during a visit to the U.S. National Whitewater Center (UNWC) in Charlotte, North Carolina. She had exposure to Naegleria fowleri, which is associated with a rarely seen infection in the brain. The case alleges that UNWC and the builder, Recreation Engineering & Planning, demonstrated gross negligence and recklessness. Her parents say that their daughter had not participated in any water activities during the period spanning from when she left the water park and the time of her death. Seitz, a resident of Ohio, was traveling with her youth ministry group when they visited the park. The plaintiffs believe that when her raft capsized and her head was briefly submerged under the water that day, the amoeba was able to enter her nose.
The deceased had just graduated from high school when her group of nearly 40 people from The Church of the Messiah went to UNWC. The massive facility covers 1,300 acres and has many activities such as whitewater rafting, paddle boarding, rope lines and others. Several days after returning home, Seitz began exhibiting symptoms of an illness. Those who acquire this infection generally may experience fever, nausea, headaches, and seizures. She was soon in the hospital for treatment of the infection; however, she was unable to recover and passed away 11 days after being at the park.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) took water samples from the facility, which did test positive for the amoeba. There were several positive samples, which are rarely found in any setting. They surmised that a buildup of dirt and fragments prevented the process of sanitizing the water, thus the amoeba was able to expand to dangerous levels of concentration. After the findings, the park closed for a short period to remedy the conditions. The suit explains that the operator showed a failure in maintaining chlorination levels of the water, improper or deficient employee training, and acted without regard for the safety of the public. One additional procedural problem that was cited was that water levels were too low (shallow); therefore, the water was not able to regularly flow through the filtration systems. The likelihood of exposure from the water at this park was much greater than if someone went swimming in Charlotte’s Catawba River.
The CDC reported that less than 10 such reported cases had occurred in any year since the 1960s. Humans cannot contract the Naegleria fowleri by drinking water that is contaminated, and the one-celled organism does not reside in salt water. The recommended precautions to take when exposed to warm fresh water include:
- Preventing water from entering the nose
- Avoid warm fresh water when the water level is low
- Avoid digging and spreading sediment when in rivers, lakes, ponds etc.