Rare Brain-Eating Amoeba Kills Teen in North Carolina

By Jim Liao, Epoch Times
June 23, 2016 Updated: June 23, 2016

An Ohio teen died after contracting an infection from a rare brain-eating amoeba during a visit to North Carolina last week.

The teen identified as Lauren Seitz, 18, had been rafting at the U.S. National Whitewater Center (USNWC) in Charlotte, N.C., with her church group.

Seitz passed away on June 21 from meningitis due to a water-borne organism, USNWC stated. The NC Department of Health and Human Services later posted a notice that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suspected the death was due to Primary Amebic Meningoencephalitis (PAM), an infection caused by Naegeria fowleri. 

Naegeria fowleri is a one-celled organism naturally present in warm lakes during the summer. The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services believes that Seitz was exposed to water when a raft she and several others were riding overturned.

Various health departments in North Carolina are collaborating for further investigation.

Brain Eating Amoeba

Naegleria fowleri is commonly referred to as the “brain-eating amoeba,” according to the CDC. The infection it causes to the brain, PAM, occurs when the amoeba, inhaled through the nose, enters the brain and begins to destroy tissue. 

The amoeba lives in warm freshwater such as lakes, rivers, and hot springs, as well as in soil. Infection typically occurs when people swim in warm freshwater lakes and rivers.

Infections, though, are quite rare. The CDC states that there have only been 138 documented infections from 1962 to 2015, which averages to less than 3 cases a year. The low incidence rate makes epidemiological study of PAM difficult. When infected, the outcome is usually fatal, with 135/138 cases of infection resulting in death.

The amoeba is not known to spread from person to person.

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services lists several precautions to avoid infection: 

  • Limit the amount of water going up your nose. Hold your nose shut, use nose clips, or keep your head above water when taking part in warm freshwater-related activities.
  • Avoid water-related activities in warm fresh water during periods of high water temperature and low water levels.
  • Avoid digging in, or stirring up, the sediment while taking part in water-related activities in shallow, warm fresh water areas.