Woman Uses Neti Pot, Ends Up With Brain-Eating Amoeba

Pearl Mccarthy
December 8, 2018

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. But they weren't able to test her tap water to confirm the Balamuthia mandrillaris amoebas were there.

"For all intents and purposes, it looked like a tumor", said senior case report author Dr. Charles Cobbs, a neurosurgeon at the Swedish Medical Center in Seattle.

The amoeba was discovered in 1986.

However, an examination of tissue taken from her brain during surgery showed that her problem wasn't a tumor at all.

Cobbs: "This is an amoeba that is just one of the things in the environment, so we're exposed to it all the time probably, and it's not really known to be something that injures humans but in a certain, extremely rare situation it can cause an infection like this".

A month later, the woman died. Since then, more than 200 cases have been diagnosed worldwide, with at least 70 cases in the USA, the CDC says. It's a simple contraption that can be purchased at major retailers across the US.

According to a study recently published in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases, doctors believe the woman likely became infected when she used tap water in her neti pot, a teapot-like vessel used to flush out nasal passages.

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"It's extremely important to use sterile saline or sterile water", Dr. Cobbs said.

It is also acceptable to use a filter specifically created to trap potentially infectious organisms.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rushed the anti-amoeba drug miltefosine to Seattle to try to save the woman's life, but she fell into a coma and died. A CT scan had revealed a 1.5-centimeter lesion and the 69-year-old had a history of cancer. "I think she was using (tap) water that had been through a water filter and had been doing that for about a year previously".

The specific amoeba that killed the Seattle woman moves slowly, which is why it went undetected for a year. About two weeks later, Cobbs performed another surgery and removed a mass the size of a baseball.

"After a month of using non-sterile water for nasal lavage without success, she developed a quarter-sized red raised rash on the right side of the bridge of her nose and raw red skin at the nasal opening, which was thought to be rosacea", the report states.

"It's such an incredibly uncommon disease it was not on anyone's radar that this initial nose sore would be related to her brain", Piper said.

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