Published: Mon, December 10, 2018
Medicine | By Tracy Klein

Seattle Woman Dies After Brain-Eating Amoeba Enters Her Body

Seattle Woman Dies After Brain-Eating Amoeba Enters Her Body

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 unsafe infections, including one with a brain-eating amoeba.

That is a rare condition as only 200 cases caused by that brain-eating amoeba have been recorded around the world.

"The pathologist was able to look at it under a microscope and see the characteristic, actually the amoeba, in the tissue", said Dr. Charles Cobbs, Swedish Neuroscience Institute.

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

What happened: The woman had been filling her neti pot with unfiltered water and using it to try to clear up a sinus infection. The researchers said the patient used tap water filtered through a store-bought water filter, instead of the recommended boiled or saline water. At that point, they diagnosed her with a brain tumour.

Amoebas may be found in fresh-water sources around Puget Sound such as wells, but aren't present in city-treated water, according to Liz Coleman, a spokeswoman for the Environmental Public Health division of the state's Department of Health.

People can't be infected by simply swallowing water contaminated with amoebas. In fact, her case of GAE is the first to be linked to the washing of the nasal cavity, according to Keenan Piper, a member of the Swedish team that produced the study.

According to the paper, the infection first showed up as a skin lesion on the woman's nose.

In October, a 29-year-old man from New Jersey died from brain-eating amoebas.

After the operation, the woman was sent home, according to the report.

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

In 2011, Louisiana health officials warned residents not to use nonsterilized tap water in neti pots after the deaths of two people who were exposed to Naegleria fowleri while flushing their nasal passages. The woman died about a month later.

It turned out a rare amoeba had been eating her alive. There have been over 200 diagnoses of the disease worldwide, 70 of which were in the United States, per the CDC.

The specific amoeba that killed the Seattle woman moves slowly, which is why it went undetected for a year.

It is thought the amoebas are primarily soil-based, but the "exact environmental niche is really unknown", Cope said in an email. "MRSA (a treatable bacterial infection) is everywhere, but we don't have a mechanism of injecting it into our brain", Cobbs said.

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