Health Care

Woman dies from brain-eating amoeba after using neti pot

Woman dies from brain-eating amoeba after using neti pot

A Seattle woman unwittingly injected deadly brain-eating amoebas into her nasal cavity when she rinsed out her sinuses with tap water, according to a new report. Upon further investigation, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention subsequently made a decision to test the water at a Texas surf resort he visited before getting sick.

She contracted an amoeba called Balamuthia mandrillaris.

But even though the woman used tap water, the odds were in her favor that she would have been fine.

If you haven't used a neti pot before, you've probably at least heard of it. Rather than filling her neti pot with saline or sterile water, she used tap water filtered through a store-bought water filter.

"When I operated on this lady, a section of her brain about the size of a golf ball was bloody mush", Charles Cobbs, a neurosurgeon at Swedish Medical Center, told the Seattle Times.

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Three types of amoebas have been identified as causing fatal brain infections, according to Jennifer Cope, an epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's unit that focuses on foodborne, waterborne and environmental diseases. Unlike N. fowleri, however, which kills its human victims in a matter of days, the B. mandrillaris amoeba requires more time to inflict its damage. They got worse and worse over a year, until she had a seizure - and doctors discovered the amoebas chewing away at her brain. Doctors gave her the medicine (and a cocktail of other anti-infection drugs), but she continued to get worse, according to the report.

People can't be infected by simply swallowing water contaminated with amoebas. Not suspecting anything particularly unusual, her doctors diagnosed it as a rosacea, a common skin condition, with treatments lasting for about a year.

The amoeba is similar to Naegleria fowleri, which has been the culprit in several high-profile cases. Tap water can contain tiny organisms that are safe to drink but could survive in nasal passages. "Repeat CT imaging demonstrated further hemorrhage into the original resection cavity".

As reported in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases, the story began when a Seattle-based woman visited the doctors with a nasty chronic sinus infection. "At this point, the family made a decision to withdraw support". An official urged users to fill the pots only with distilled, sterile or previously boiled water, and to rinse and dry them after each use. In the meantime, the scientists recommend that doctors conduct amoeba testing in cases of nasal sores and ring-enhancing brain lesions.