Doctors blame tap water in neti pot for brain-eating amoeba

Faith Castro
December 9, 2018

The woman, a Swedish Medical Center patient, likely contracted the brain-eating amoeba from the water in her nasal rinse, Swedish doctors said. It was microscopic amoebas that were feasting on her brain.

After a month of clearing her sinuses with the non-sterile water, a quarter-sized red rash appeared on the right side of her nose. It's believed that the woman used tap water she'd put in a pitcher with a filter.

Cobbs said it's theoretically possible for other people to be infected with the same deadly amoeba, but that it's a very, very rare occurrence. 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. Doctors believe an amoeba entered in through her upper nasal cavity and got into her bloodstream, eventually reaching her brain.

After the operation, the woman's "condition continued to deteriorate", and within one week she had fallen into a coma, per the case report. It was declared a distinct species in 1993, according to the report.

As in the Seattle woman's case, the infections are "almost uniformly fatal", with a death rate of more than 89%, according to the doctors who treated her and the CDC. Globally, only 200 infections have ever been recorded, of which 70 occurred in the United States.

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You can't get the infection from drinking contaminated water or swimming in a properly chlorinated pool, and it hasn't been shown to spread through vapor from a hot shower or humidifier, according to the CDC.

The amoeba is similar to Naegleria fowleri, which has been the culprit in several high-profile cases. In this case, however, it was the neti rinse device that delivered the amoebas, via infected tap water, into her nasal passages and into her olfactory nerves, the scientists said.

Eventually she reportedly developed a rash on her nose and raw skin near her nostrils, which was misdiagnosed as rosacea, a skin condition.

"When I operated on this lady, a section of her brain about the size of a golf ball was bloody mush", Dr. Charles Cobbs, neurosurgeon at Swedish, said in a phone interview. Repeat CT imaging demonstrated further haemorrhage into the original resection cavity. The woman died a month later, the Seattle Times reports. There have been over 200 diagnoses of the disease worldwide, 70 of which were in the U.S., per the CDC. Within a week, she was in a coma, and her family made a decision to take her off life support.

Health officials say Neti pots can be safe to use as long as you follow the instructions and fill them only with boiled or distilled water.

Other reports by LeisureTravelAid

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