A 69-year-old Seattle woman has died from a rare condition after using tap water, instead of saline or sterile water, to rinse her sinuses with a neti pot.
The woman was admitted to the hospital last January after suffering a seizure, at which point doctors found what they thought was a tumor on a CT scan of her brain.
But, when she underwent brain surgery a day later, doctors discovered the situation was even worse.
“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 Medical Center, told the Seattle Times. “There were these amoeba all over the place just eating brain cells. We didn’t have any clue what was going on, but when we got the actual tissue we could see it was the amoeba.”
The woman died a month later after the organisms entered her brain, having been injected into her sinus cavity by a neti pot – a teapot shaped device used to rinse out the sinuses during a cold.
The case study was recently published by the International Journal of Infectious Diseases. It does not identify the victim.
Researchers say she likely became infected by amoebas from her tap water, rather than filling the neti pot with saline or sterile water.
According to the Journal, the woman developed a red sore on her nose for about a year, which went misdiagnosed as a common skin condition known a rosacea, but was likely the first symptom of the amoeba.
The amoeba that was responsible for her death was identified as Balamuthia mandrillaris, the least-recognized among the medical community, which is an extremely slow moving organism that can take weeks or months to cause death.
“From my understanding it’s everywhere. There are molds and fungi that can kill you if it infects your brain. MRSA (a treatable bacterial infection) is everywhere, but we don’t have a mechanism of injecting it into our brain,” Cobbs said. “It’s always going to be an uphill battle because people learn by seeing things over and over again, but I don’t think that there are going to be an increase in cases in the future. At least I hope not.”