Health officials are investigating the Sunday death of an 18-year-old woman who may have contracted a rare brain-eating amoeba during a visit to the U.S. Whitewater Center.
The Columbus Dispatch reported her name as Lauren Seitz. Though she lived in Ohio, she was visiting some Southern states on a youth mission music tour with her church.
Her pastor Jim Wilson, the senior pastor at Church of the Messiah United Methodist Church in Westerville, Ohio, said the group’s ‘fun day’ was a trip to visit the Whitewater Center on Wednesday, June 8.
The suspected cause of her death was attributed to Primary Amebic Meningoencephalitis (PAM), a disease that is caused by Naegleria floweri, a free-living amoeba that dwells in bodies of warm freshwater.
A spokeswoman for the Franklin County Health Department in Ohio said Seitz had not been swimming at all in Ohio waters during the infection’s incubation period – one to seven days.
According to the CDC’s website, the infectious disease occurs when the amoeba enters the body through the nose. It can not occur through drinking contaminated water, and it is not contagious.
This infection is rare. The CDC reported only 37 infections were reported from 2006 to 2015. When contracted it is generally fatal, with only four known survivors in North America.
Initial symptoms of PAM start about five days after infection, according to the CDC. These symptoms include fever, nausea, headache or vomiting and can progress into loss of balance, seizures and hallucinations. The CDC reports that after the start of the symptoms, the disease progresses rapidly and generally causes death within about five days.
Seitz was traveling with a group of youth to sing at various nursing homes and churches, leaving Westerville, Ohio on June 4. According to Wilson, June 8 is the only day the group went swimming. They returned home on June 11, and Seitz passed away on June 19.
The Mecklenburg County Health Department is collaborating with the Center for Disease Control, the Ohio Department of Public Health, Franklin County Public Health Department, the North Carolina Division of Public Health and the U.S. National Whitewater Center to further investigate.
State and local health officials have scheduled an 11 a.m. press conference.
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