CDC: Whitewater Center systems inadequate to keep deadly amoeba out

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Chlorination and filtration systems were inadequate at the U.S. National Whitewater Center, where a rafter became infected with a deadly amoeba, a federal health official said Thursday.

All test samples for a brain-eating amoeba at the Whitewater Center came back positive, officials said at a Thursday press conference.

There were 11 tests conducted in the whitewater rafting area.

The water drained from the whitewater rafting area is in a lower pool and is contained at the center, officials said.

Officials also said the Whitewater Center's cleaning system was inadequate to keep the amoeba out.

An Ohio teen died from after contracting the amoeba just days after visiting the center earlier this month.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it inspects dangerous pathogens all over the country and has never seen anything on this scale or in an environment like this.

Health officials said finding answers will be difficult because this is a new experience for them.

"Levels that we haven't previously seen in environmental samples," CDC's Dr. Jennifer Cope said.

The results are so unprecedented Mecklenburg County health officials Thursday stopped workers from even cleaning the popular attraction.

Earlier this week, workers power-washed the drained river wearing no protective gear.
"Until we could get some recommendations about the best cleaning methods that would be the safest for the workers," said Dr. Stephen Keener, Mecklenburg County Health Department medical director.
Health officials are trying to figure out what to do with 11 million gallons of water drained from the course that was moved into a pool on the property.

They are trying to come up with a solution on how to reduce the threat in an area that big.
"I don't know if anybody knows the answer to that question," Keener said. "I certainly do not."

The CDC said several factors made the system ineffective putting primary blame on the amount of debris in the water.

An official said that debris blocked the UV filtration system from working properly that also prevents chlorine treatments from being effective.

The CDC also specifically referenced slime layers that existed on the side of the water channels because they are breeding grounds for the amoeba.

The CDC tested the water on June 22 after Lauren Seitz, 18, died from the deadly amoeba.

On Friday, preliminary results from the Whitewater Center came back positive for the amoeba, and the center immediately shut down rafting operations.

The CDC said the Whitewater Center was likely the source of Seitz's infection.

In the wake of last week's discovery, the North Carolina House approved a bill Thursday night that would allow the state to regulate the Whitewater Center. It will now go to the Senate.

On its website, the center said it will drain all the water from its whitewater channels to dry them, clean all concrete and rock in the channels, and test both its wells and city water supply for the amoeba. The statement also said the center will work with the CDC, health officials and other professionals to decide on water quality measures to minimize amoeba risks. The center said it does not expect to eliminate the amoeba risk.

Department of Health and Human Services: 

“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 resource for local officials." 

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