Health Care

A Seattle woman died of an infection after using her neti pot

A Seattle woman died of an infection after using her neti pot

Doctors came across something they never suspected while carrying out brain surgery on a 69-year-old woman in the United States: a slushy mess of dead brain tissue. So he extracted a sample for further testing.

"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 Seattle's Swedish Medical Center, told the Times. "We didn't have any clue what was going on, but when we got the actual tissue we could see it was the amoeba".

Indeed, the ensuing biopsy report showed that the woman had been infected with a rare brain-eating amoeba called Balamuthia mandrillaris.

Dr. Cobbs said she most likely became infected by Balamuthia mandrillaris, an amoeba that kills the brain cells slowly over time.

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By nasal lavage the researchers are referring to the use of a neti pot - a teapot-shaped device that relieves sinus pressure by flushing water through the nasal cavity.

"If you do use a neti pot, for instance, you should be very aware that it has to be absolute sterile water or sterile saline", said Dr. Cobbs. They look harmless, but neti pots can be unsafe.

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

According to the CDC, most brain infections from amoebas are associated with swimming in warm freshwater lakes and rivers. A year later, the woman had a seizure, per USA Today.

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These amoebas traditionally live in the warm climates of South and Central America, but climate change may be opening up new habitats - including in northern USA states like Washington.

The amoeba was discovered in 1986. It is the first fatality from this kind of infection in the state. The fatality rate is almost 100 percent.

Normally, an extra effort is required to bring on an infection; it can not be contracted by drinking contaminated water. "But in your nose, these organisms can stay alive in nasal passages and cause potentially serious infections", according to U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The sores were originally diagnosed as rosacea, according to the Seattle Times. A CT scan had revealed a 1.5-centimeter lesion and the 69-year-old had a history of cancer. She entered surgery the next day. "At this point, the family made a decision to withdraw support".

A Swedish Medical Center report on the woman's death says there are about 200 cases worldwide of this particular amoebic infection. Since then, more than 200 cases have been diagnosed worldwide, with at least 70 cases in the US, the CDC says. Doctors believe an amoeba entered in through her upper nasal cavity and got into her bloodstream, eventually reaching her brain.

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