A woman contracted a fatal brain-eating amoeba using a neti pot for her sinuses

Neti pot.

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Neti pot.
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MandriaPix/Shutterstock

  • Doctors believe that the 69-year-old Seattle woman contracted a fatal brain-eating amoeba after using tap water in her neti pot rather than the sterile saline solution.
  • She contracted an amoeba called Balamuthia mandrillaris.
  • The amoeba causes a “very rare disease that is usually fatal” called granulomatous amoebic encephalitis (GAE).
  • After using the prescribed neti pot for a month, she developed a rash near her nose, which was misdiagnosed as rosacea.

A 69-year-old woman from Seattle, Washington, died after contracting a rare brain-eating amoeba from using a neti pot to clean out her sinuses, according to the Seattle Times.

The woman had been prescribed a neti pot to flush out her nasal cavity because she had a sinus infection, per a case report published in International Journal of Infectious Diseases. Researchers believe that she contracted the amoeba while using the neti pot because she used filtered tap water rather than saline or sterile water, the latter of which is recommended.

A woman using a neti pot.

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A woman using a neti pot.
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linavita/Shutterstock

She used the neti pot for about a month to treat her sinus infection, and developed red, rash-like sores around her nose. The sores were originally diagnosed as rosacea, according to the Seattle Times.

But her rash persisted.

And a year later, in January 2017, the woman had a seizure, per the paper. When doctors took a CT scan of her brain, they found what they initially believed to be a large tumor. But the next day, they discovered that her brain was teeming with the amoeba.

“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 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.”

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After the operation, the woman’s “condition continued to deteriorate,” and within one week she had fallen into a coma, per the case report. “Repeat CT imaging demonstrated further hemorrhage into the original resection cavity. At this point, the family decided to withdraw support,” the report continued.

A month later, the woman died.

Lab results later revealed that the infection in her brain and nose rash were caused by an amoeba called Balamuthia mandrillaris, which is often associated with a disease called granulomatous amoebic encephalitis (GAE), according to the Center for Disease Control.

The case report notes that GAE is rare and the CDC described it as a “very rare disease that is usually fatal.” According to the CDC, the amoeba was discovered in 1986 and officially declared a new species in 1993. There have been over 200 diagnoses of the disease worldwide, 70 of which were in the US, per the CDC.

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