Seattle woman dies from brain-eating amoebas in neti pot

An MRI of the Seattle woman’s brain in January 2018. Doctors initially thought the ringed lesion on the left was a tumor because the woman had a history of breast cancer

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. So he extracted a sample for further testing. "There were these amoeba all over the place just eating brain cells".

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

The woman, doctors realized, had been infected with Balamuthia mandrillaris, a type of amoeba that can infect the brain and cause massive damage.

However, using tap water with a neti pot isn't safe, according to the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA). They look harmless, but neti pots can be risky. "She wasn't boiling the water or using sterile saline, she was filtering it, but maybe somehow it got contaminated". The CDC says it's possible that the amoeba may also live in water. After experiencing an intense seizure and an apparent loss of brain cognition, doctors started to investigate the possibility of the problem being in her brain.

A year on, the woman started to develop some unusual symptoms, such as a odd red rash around the outside of her nasal passage.

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 U.S. states like Washington. According to the CDC, the amoeba was discovered in 1986 and officially declared a new species in 1993. It is the first fatality from this kind of infection in the state.

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As in the Seattle woman's case, the infections are "almost uniformly fatal", with a death rate of more than 89%, according to the doctors who treated her and the CDC.

Normally, an extra effort is required to bring on an infection; it can not be contracted by drinking contaminated water.

A person can not get infected from swallowing water contaminated with it, and it can not pass from person to person. They wrote a case study for the International Journal of Infectious Diseases to educate other doctors on their rare findings. At that time, a CT scan showed a half-inch lesion on her brain. The woman's brain surgery and subsequent biopsy finally revealed the true nature of her condition.

"Despite aggressive anti-amoebic therapy, the patient's condition continued to deteriorate", the report states. Then the numbness began on her left side. "At this point, the family chose to withdraw support", the report continued. Swedish Medical Center didn't identify the patient who died just a month after being diagnosed. As the researchers noted in the case study, there's still much to learn about the mode of and reasons for these infections, such as the influence of compromised immune systems, environmental factors, and genetics.

The woman filled the neti pot with tap water, doctors said.

Neti pots are used to pour saline into one nostril and out of the other to irrigate the sinuses, usually to fight allergies or infections.

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