Ohio Teen Dies After Contracting Brain-Eating Amoeba While Swimming in North Carolina

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An Ohio teen on a youth ministry trip has died after she was believed to have contracted a brain-eating amoeba while swimming during a visit to North Carolina.

Lauren Elisabeth Seitz of Westerville, Ohio, is shown in a photo posted on Hill Funeral Home's website.
Lauren Elisabeth Seitz of Westerville, Ohio, is shown in a photo posted on Hill Funeral Home’s website.

The 18-year-old woman traveled with her church to West Virginia and North Carolina in early June, singing at churches and nursing homes, according to WCMH, a television station in Columbus, Ohio.

Before they left North Carolina, the group from Church of the Messiah, United Methodist — in the Columbus suburb of Westerville — spent a day at the U.S. National Whitewater Center, an outdoor recreation training center in Charlotte.

“They had one day of recreation where they stopped at the U.S. Whitewater Center and went whitewater rafting — and they had a grand day,” church Senior Pastor Jim Wilson told WCMH.

While swimming, the teen contracted meningoencephalitis, an infection of the brain, a representative of Westerville City Schools to WCMH. She died on Sunday.

The Columbus Dispatch identified the victim as Lauren Seitz.

An obituary posted for her on the website for the Westerville funeral home that handled her services said Seitz was survived by her parents, sister, boyfriend and extended family.

“Lauren understood the overwhelming beauty and fragility of life with uncommon clarity and cared so deeply about the welfare of other people and this world we all share,” the post stated.

Wilson said in a Facebook post that Seitz had planned to attend Denison University in fall.

“We will deeply miss her, but we were so blessed by her presence and her gifts that she just shared in a beautiful way,” Wilson said. “She was a special person.”

It wasn’t clear exactly where Seitz had been swimming when she contracted the amoeba, but the Dispatch reported that the whitewater center includes 1,000 acres on the Catawba River.

The center said it met with health officials from Mecklenburg County Tuesday afternoon to discuss this case. Those health officials stressed that it’s not certain Seitz contracted the amoeba while at the whitewater facility, the Charlotte Observer reported.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sent investigators to the center on Wednesday to test the water there, according to the Charlotte newspaper.

A vigil was held Tuesday night to honor Seitz, the Dispatch reported. A celebration of her life was slated for Saturday at her church.

The disease is very rare and is only contracted through natural water sources when water is drawn into the body through the nose, according to the county health department.

Only 37 people have contracted the amoeba in the past 10 years between 2006 and 2015, according to CDC statistics. The fatality rate is over 97 percent, the CDC states.

The CDC says symptoms start one to nine days after the water is ingested. Early symptoms can include severe headaches, fever, nausea, and vomiting. More severe symptoms include a stiff neck, seizures altered mental states, hallucinations, and a coma.

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