Seattle, WA

Woman Contracted a Deadly Brain-Eating Organism After Using Tap Water to Rinse Out Her Clogged Sinuses

Yana Bostongirl

Upon her doctor's recommendation, a 69-year-old Seattle woman started using a neti pot to rinse out her sinuses. Unbeknownst to her, a deadly brain-eating amoeba had found its way into her body through the nonsterile tap water she used to clear out her sinuses.

According to the FDA, a neti pot is a teapot-like container that is used for nasal irrigation: "Along with other nasal irrigation devices, these devices — commonly called neti pots — use a saline, or saltwater, solution to treat congested sinuses, colds and allergies. They’re also used to moisten nasal passages exposed to dry indoor air."

While it is always best to use distilled water or water that has been boiled and cooled to avoid the risk of infection, in this case, the woman used tap water that had only been run through a Brita purifier.

Around a month after she started using the neti pot for sinus irrigation, the woman noticed a red rash on her face which was later misdiagnosed as rosacea as this excerpt explains: "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. Her doctor told her it was rosacea and prescribed an ointment, according to the report. The rash didn't clear and she saw a dermatologist several times seeking answers, but biopsies didn't result in any definitive diagnosis." 

According to reports, a year after the rash appeared, the woman suffered a seizure and was taken to the hospital where a CT scan revealed an abnormal lesion on her brain: "Doctors performed surgery to remove the mass, which they say had "unusual characteristics." A specimen was sent to Johns Hopkins University for analysis." 

In other words, her brain was teeming with amoebae.

Following the surgery, the woman lost her feeling in both her left leg and arm. Even though meds were administered after a neurosurgeon from Johns Hopkins suggested her condition may be caused by an amoebic infection, it was too late for the patient.

Since doctors had limited experience with diagnosing and treating an amoeba infection, it was only after her death in 2018 that the woman was tested for and received a positive test result for Balamuthia mandrillaris, a deadly brain-eating amoeba that lives in soil and water.

Discovered for the first time in the US in 1986, this amoeba has been responsible for the deaths of 70 people since then. However, the number may be higher but not reported due to misdiagnoses. Balamuthia mandrillaris is similar to Naegleria fowleri, another amoeba that is responsible for several deaths in the US.

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