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Woman dies of rare brain-eating amoeba after using neti pot filled with tap water

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3D illustration of the Balamuthia mandrillaris amoeba.

3D illustration of the Balamuthia mandrillaris amoeba.

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SALT LAKE CITY — A woman in Seattle died from a rare brain-eating amoeba that she most likely contracted while using a neti pot, according to multiple reports.

What happened: The woman had been filling her neti pot with unfiltered water and using it to try to clear up a sinus infection.

  • According to the Seattle Times, after contracting the amoebas, the 69-year-old developed a sore on her nose, which was misdiagnosed as rosacea, a common and treatable skin condition.
  • But the sore didn’t go away even after treatment and multiple visits to the dermatologist. A year later, the woman had a seizure, per USA Today.
  • According to a report published in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases, doctors conducted a CT scan on the woman and noticed a lesion in her brain. She underwent surgery at Seattle’s Swedish Medical Center to remove what lead neurosurgeon Charles Cobbs thought was a brain tumor, the study said.
  • “When I operated on this lady, a section of her brain about the size of a golf ball was bloody mush,” Cobbs 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.”
  • According to the report, lab results from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the woman’s brain tissue tested positive for Balamuthia mandrillaris, a rare brain-eating amoeba that is typically found in soil. The CDC says it’s possible that the amoeba may also live in water.

Balamuthia mandrillaris: As Gizmodo reported, there have only ever been 200 reported cases of B. mandrillaris globally. The fatality rate is nearly 100 percent.

  • At least 70 of these cases were in the US, as stated in the report.
  • The Seattle Times reported that B. mandrillaris is the rarest of all three amoebas known to cause fatal brain infections.
  • Unlike Naegleria fowleri, a brain-eating amoeba that killed a New Jersey man back in September, B. mandrillaris acts slowly and can take weeks or months before symptoms of infection develop, per the Seattle Times. In the case of the Seattle woman, it took nearly a year.
  • According to USA Today, once it was determined that the woman had an amoebic infection, she was given treatment to stop the infection. However, the damage was extensive and when she showed no signs of improvement, her family made the decision to take her off of life support.

Scientists have stated that neti pots are still safe to use, but it is still recommended that only sterile or saline water be used in them, per Gizmodo.