(Meredith) – A Seattle woman died from a rare, brain-eating amoeba after rinsing her nasal cavity with tap water to clear up a sinus infection.
The 69-year-old woman had been using a neti pot with filtered tap water twice daily to alleviate her symptoms, according to a report published in the International Journal of Infectious Disease.
Only saline or sterile water should be used for sinus irrigation.
After about a month of clearing her sinuses with non-sterile water, she developed a quarter-sized rash on the right side of her nose. Her doctor thought it was rosacea and prescribed her an ointment, according to the case study. The rash never cleared up, so she went to a dermatologist. Biopsies of the nasal sore were taken on three separate occasions but provided no definite diagnosis.
About a year later, in January 2018, the woman was admitted to Swedish Medical Center in Seattle after suffering a seizure. Doctors took a CT scan of her brain and found what they initially thought was a tumor.
“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, 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.”
Following the amoeba diagnosis, doctors at Swedish contacted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta to obtain a specific medicine to treat her condition. By the time it arrived, she could not be saved.
Tests after death concluded the woman died of Balamuthia mandrillaris, an amoeba found in soil and fresh water. Researchers believe the rare organisms entered her brain after being injected into her nasal cavity by way of the neti pot.
"She had been using water that had been put through a filter, and maybe it had been sitting there and somehow the amoeba from somewhere else got in there. So that’s what we suspect is the source of the infection,” Cobbs told KIRO-TV.
“This is so rare. There have only been like 200 cases, ever,” he continued. “It’s not something to be scared about because it’s extraordinarily rare, but still there’s a lot to learn.”