CDC Issues Neti Pot Warning After Woman Contracts Fatal Brain Disease

by Cassandra Stone
Originally Published: 

You shouldn’t ever use plain tap water in neti pots, the CDC says

Doctors with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are warning neti pot users on how to use them safely and properly after a woman in Seattle died from a brain-eating amoeba after using one to treat a sinus infection.

Doctors say the brain infection the woman suffered from is extremely rare, but are stressing the importance of using neti pots carefully. The 69-year-old woman apparently had a chronic sinus infection and used tap water filtered by a Brita water purifier, according to a report published in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases.

Dr. Jennifer Copeland, a medical epidemiologist for the CDC says though these amoebic infections are rare, they are often caused by the use of tap water in neti pots. “The message we want people to hear is that if you use the neti pot you should not use tap water directly,” she tells NBC News.

Instead, they recommend the use of sterile water for neti pots. Sterile water is free of bacteria and viruses, whereas tap water can only be used if it’s been passed through a special filter or boiled for three to five minutes, then left to cool until it’s lukewarm.

Boiled “spring water” is not considered sterile, so it should not be used unless boiled first.

According to the Seattle Times, the woman was admitted to a local hospital earlier this year after suffering a seizure. After doctors examined her brain tissue, they determined she was infected with Balamuthia mandrillaris, an amoeba found in soil and fresh water — and it had been eating her brain for almost a year.

“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, tells the 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.”

What an utterly horrifying and tragic event for the woman, her family, and all involved.

If you or your children use neti pots — which are incredibly popular — the CDC has a list of rules and recommendations for how to properly irrigate sinuses.

  1. Use distilled or sterile water. If using tap or filtered water, boil for several minutes and let cool until lukewarm.
  2. Tilt your head sideways over the sink and place the spout of the neti pot in the upper nostril.
  3. Breathing through your open mouth, gently pour the saltwater solution into your upper nostril so that the liquid drains through the lower nostril.
  4. Repeat on the other side.
  5. Rinse the irrigation device after each use with similarly distilled, sterile, previously boiled and cooled, or filtered water and leave open to air-dry.

There isn’t a lot of information available when it comes to how people contract the infection, but the most common signs are: a rash on the face, trunk or limbs. Other early symptoms include headache, stiff neck, sensitivity to light, nausea and vomiting, and fever.

Once the infection spreads to the brain, seizures, speech difficulties, paralysis, and difficulty walking are typical. Please, please use your neti pots safely.

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