What is the Brain Eating Amoeba?

Woman dies from brain-eating amoeba after using tap water in a neti pot

Doctors say only sterile water or saline should be used to flush out sinuses

One year after a 69-year-old woman used a neti pot to flush her sinuses, she was dead.

When medication didn’t clear up the Seattle woman’s chronic sinus infection, her doctor suggested she use a neti pot twice a day. A neti pot is a sinus irrigation device that channels water through to wash out mucus and debris.

» RELATED: 11-year-old girl died in 2016 after contracting brain-eating amoeba

The woman used filtered — but not sterile or saline  — water in the pot, however. After a month of irrigating her sinuses, “she developed a quarter-sized red raised rash on the right side of the bridge of her nose and raw red skin at the nasal opening,” according to the International Journal of Infectious Diseases.

After several trips to doctors, including dermatologists, she received a diagnosis of rosacea, but no real relief.

About a year after the rash appeared, the woman had a seizure. A CT scan revealed a lesion on her brain. Doctors at Swedish Medical Center performed a biopsy to determine the cause, and discovered Balamuthia mandrillaris, a free-living amoeba that is found in the soil and fresh water.

“There were these amoebas all over the place just eating brain cells,” Dr. Charles Cobbs, who performed the surgery told the Seattle Times. “We didn’t have any clue what was going on, but when we got the actual tissue, we could see it was the amoeba.”

Within a month, the woman was dead.

A report this month in Clinical Infectious Diseases found 109 cases of the amoeba reported in the United States between 1974 and 2016. Ninety percent of those cases were fatal, the report said.

"It’s extremely important to use sterile saline or sterile water," Cobbs said. "I think she was using (tap) water that had been through a water filter and had been doing that for about a year previously."

“If you do use a neti pot, for instance, you should be very aware that it has to be absolute sterile water or sterile saline,” Cobb said.

»RELATED: Nevada woman dies from brain-eating amoeba

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