Seattle woman dies after contracting rare form of brain-eating amoeba

Woman Uses Neti Pot, Ends Up With Brain-Eating Amoeba

A year ago the U.S. Food and Drug Administration also issued a warning that improper use of Neti pots and other nasal irrigation systems could lead to risky infections, including one with a brain-eating amoeba.

"When I operated on this lady, a section of her brain about the size of a golf ball was bloody mush", Dr Charles Cobbs, a neurosurgeon at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle, told The Seattle Times.

An amoeba is a single-cell organism that can cause fatal disease in humans, and they live in warm soil and water.

"We didn't have any clue what was going on", he added.

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. Rather than filling her neti pot with saline or sterile water, she used tap water filtered through a store-bought water filter.

The 69-year-old Seattle resident died in February after undergoing brain surgery at Swedish Medical Center.

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The amoebas can be found in fresh-water sources around Puget Sound but aren't present in city-treated water, Liz Coleman, a spokeswoman for the Environmental Public Health division of the state's Department of Health, told the paper.

You can't get the infection from drinking contaminated water or swimming in a properly chlorinated pool, and it hasn't been shown to spread through vapor from a hot shower or humidifier, according to the CDC.

The case is the second-ever reported in Seattle - the first was in 2013. She wasn't immediately aware of any other local cases of infection. They hope her case will let other doctors know to consider an amoeba infection if a patient gets a sore or rash on the nose after rinsing their sinuses. In this case, however, it was the neti rinse device that delivered the amoebas, via infected tap water, into her nasal passages and into her olfactory nerves, the scientists said. At first doctors thought the woman had a tumor, as she had been previously diagnosed with breast cancer. "There's been about 200 cases world-wide", Dr. Cobb said.

She contracted an amoeba called Balamuthia mandrillaris.

"He thought it looked suspicious for amoeba infection. MRSA (a treatable bacterial infection) is everywhere, but we don't have a mechanism of injecting it into our brain", Cobbs said. That said, the woman's case was rare; there were only three similar cases in the US from 2008 to 2017, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). "At least I hope not".

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