In response to the death of Ohio teen, Lauren Seitz last week from primary amoebic encephalitis (PAM) after contracting the parasite, Naegleria fowleri, the Charlotte area U.S. National Whitewater Center, where it is believed she contracted it, published a Q & A yesterday on a number of related topics:

Is the U.S. National Whitewater Center open?

brain eating amoeba
Naegleria fowleri

Yes, the U.S. National Whitewater Center is open. Due to recent events and information shared by the CDC and health officials, the USNWC has voluntarily suspended whitewater operations. All other aspects of the facility are open including land activities, flatwater activities, our trail system, and food and beverage operations. Furthermore, all programming, including River Jam and this weekend’s 4th of July Celebration, will proceed as scheduled.

Is the water from the entire whitewater system being drained?

Yes, we will be draining all of the water from the entire whitewater system. This is the strongest first step in rebuilding confidence in water quality as the CDC has stated Naegleria fowleri cannot survive in a dry environment. A team is currently working to thoroughly clean the whitewater channels. 

How has the USNWC managed water quality in the whitewater System?

  • We use a disc-filtration system that operates on a continuous basis to filter particulate.
  • We utilize UV Irradiation on a continuous basis to treat the water, which kills pathogens and other organisms.  We also inject chlorine into our water anytime we determine that additional disinfection is warranted.
  • Water quality tests are performed weekly by a third-party, state certified laboratory.
  • Each November, the whitewater channels are completely drained and an extensive cleaning process takes place. The water is then returned to the channels in early March.

Does the USNWC test its water?

The USNWC utilizes a third-party testing laboratory service to examine water quality on a weekly basis. The lab’s tests focus on fecal coliform, PH levels, temperature, and total suspended solids.

Does the USNWC test for Naegleria fowleri?

No, the USNWC has never tested for Naegleria fowleri. Such testing is extremely uncommon. In fact the CDC does not generally recommend testing because the amebae is naturally occurring and there is no established relationship between detection or concentration of Naegleria fowleri and risk of infection. According to the CDC “Attempts have been made to determine what concentration of Naegleria fowleri in the environment poses an unacceptable risk. However, no method currently exists that accurately and reproducibly measures the numbers of amebae in the water. This makes it unclear how a standard might be set to protect human health and how public health officials would measure and enforce such a standard.”

Can Naegleria fowleri be completely eradicated?

Please understand that despite all of these efforts described, the CDC and all the research we have available tells us that we can never successfully remove 100% of this specific risk. The CDC informs us that the organism is a free-living amoeba commonly found in warm freshwater and soil. The Catawba River and the whitewater channels are therefore susceptible to this organism. The amoeba can also be found in drinking water, hot tubs, pools, and just about anywhere water is found. This is simply a risk that will continue to exist to some degree.

Accordingly, we do not want to set an expectation that the risks associated with this organism will be eliminated. Our commitment is to work with the best possible people and organizations and employ the best demonstrated technology to create a water quality management plan that manages this risk in a professional and responsible manner.

LISTEN: Outbreak News Radio: Parasitic meningitis and Naegleria fowleri

What will the USNWC’s water treatment plan be moving forward?

Our primary focus at this time is to remove all organic matter from the whitewater channels. This is being done through the draining of the current water supply followed by a thorough cleaning and drying of the entire channel system. While this project is underway, we are examining additional methods to augment our water treatment processes. We also want to confirm the quality of each of our water sources. Through continued collaboration with health officials and water treatment experts, we aim towards enhancing our treatment capabilities through all means necessary.

When will whitewater rafting and whitewater kayaking be available again?

The timeline for re-opening whitewater activities is still being determined at this time. We know that many of our guests are eager to return to whitewater activities, and we are doing everything in our power to provide our guests the opportunity to get back on the water as soon as we can. 

Are refunds being issued for guests who purchased passes?

Guests who purchased AllSport passes for future visits are being issued refunds upon request. Season passes are being refunded upon request based on prior usage. Please contact Guest Services for more information.

What should I do if I’m concerned about exposure to Naegleria fowleri?

As with any medical concern, please contact your physician or a licensed medical professional immediately. According to the CDC, “The risk of infection remains very low.  There have been 37 reported infections in the U.S. in the 10 years from 2006 to 2015, despite hundreds of millions of recreational water exposures each year. If you experience symptoms such as headache, fever, nausea, and stiff neck within 9 days of water exposure, then seek medical aid from your doctor.”