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CDC: Cleaning systems at Whitewater Center 'inadequate' to kill amoeba

Posted June 30

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— An epidemiologist and infectious disease expert with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday that the cleaning systems used at the U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte were inadequate for killing the brain-eating amoeba found earlier this month.

Naegleria fowleri amoeba was found in the water after an 18-year-old Ohio girl contracted primary amebic meningoencephalitis after her visit and died.

Health officials said last week that water at the Whitewater Center is treated with filtration, UV radiation and, occasionally, the addition of chlorine. They do not believe there was any breakdown of those systems prior to the discovery of the amoeba.

Dr. Jennifer Cope with the CDC said Thursday that Naegleria fowleri can be killed by those systems, but several factors at the center, including the amount of dirt and debris in the water, meant that the systems were not able to correctly react to and inactivate the pathogen.

Dr. Stephen Keener with the Mecklenburg County Health Department said there is no way to determine when water activities at the Whitewater Center will resume as experts and environmental engineers work to find a solution. All other activities at the center have remained open.

“It is the intent to provide the Whitewater Center with a short list of consultants that may be able to help them develop a plan,” Keener said.

In a statement, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services said it will continue to provide resources to find a solution.

"The Department of Health and Human Services supports Mecklenburg County and its health officials in finding and achieving a solution for the U.S. National Whitewater Center. Understandably, this is a serious situation that requires a deliberate and collaborative approach to determine the next course of action. DHHS will continue to help coordinate and serve as a resources for local officials," the statement sait.

Naegleria fowleri is naturally present in warm, freshwater lakes during the summer. But infections caused by the amoeba are rare: fewer than 10 cases have been reported annually in the United States over the last 53 years, according to the CDC. Almost all such cases are fatal.

“There are far more people that are killed by boating accidents or drownings than are killed by Naegleria,” Keener said.

Keener said anybody who visited the Whitewater Center before water activities were suspended and is concerned about contracting the infection should monitor their symptoms for several days and speak with their doctor.

Symptoms usually start between one and nine days after exposure to the amoeba, which can only make a person sick if water containing Naegleria fowleri is pushed up their nose. Symptoms include headache, fever, vomiting and, in later stages, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance and seizures.

“If you have any of those symptoms and somebody has been in the whitewater channel since last Sunday or Monday, you should call your doctor,” Keener said.

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