Lots of allergy and sinus issue sufferers turn to a “nasal irrigation” product called the Neti pot for relief. But doctors say the misuse of this product resulted in a 69-year-old woman’s death.
A 69-year-old Seattle woman sought medical attention after suffering a seizure and from her CT scan, doctors were sure a brain tumor was to blame. But brain surgery revealed something else entirely — a brain-eating amoeba they believe she picked up from a Neti pot.
"Frankly, it was the last thing I had in my mind when I went in to operate on what I thought was a typical brain tumor," said Dr. Charles Cobbs, a neurosurgeon at Swedish Medical Center.
It wasn’t until Dr. Cobbs sent a sample of the “tumor” away to pathology that the true culprit was found.
"When I operated on this lady, a section of her brain about the size of a golf ball was bloody mush," Dr. Cobbs explained. "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."
The woman carried an amoeba called Balamuthia mandrillaris. This rare organism kills brain cells over time, so by the time the doctors caught it, it was too late. The woman died just a few weeks after her diagnosis.
Tainted Neti Pot Water Is Suspected Cause
After sharing the diagnosis with the Seattle woman, she told doctors about regularly using a Neti pot to flush her sinuses. The problem is that she was filling the device with tap water. She thought filtering the tap water through a Brita water purifier would be enough. But it wasn’t
“It's extremely important to use sterile saline or sterile water. I think she was using water that had been through a water filter and had been doing that for about a year previously," Dr. Cobb said.
This woman’s case is clearly an extreme case. But there’s a reason the Neti pot packaging includes the warning, "Do not use with tap water."
Using anything other than sterile water or sterile saline presents the risk of infection.
"I believe it actually got in the bloodstream and somehow ended up in the brain,” Dr. Cobb said.
Sadly, it’s too late to save the woman from Seattle. But the doctors are getting her story out there in the hopes of saving others. Doctors insist people should always follow instructions and take precautions when using medical devices.
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WATCH: Doctors Find Fatal Brain-Eating Amoeba
h/t: NBC 12