Seattle Woman Dies From Brain-Eating Amoeba After Using Neti Pot at Doctor's Order

Doctors Warn Most Cases are Missed, and That More Cases Are Likely

A woman uses a neti pot to rinse her sinuses.

A Seattle woman has died from a brain-eating amoeba, after being advised by her doctor to rinse her sinuses daily using a neti pot in order to treat her chronic rhinosinusitis.

The 69 year old woman from Washington state took several precautions when using the neti pot, including filtering the tap water through a Brita filter. However, the Center for Disease Control’s recommendations are that only distilled, sterile, or boiled-then-cooled water should ever be used for sinus irrigation.

A neti pot is a traditional sinus irrigation tool which has its roots in ancient ayurvedic medicine. Water is poured into one nostril, through the sinuses, and out the other. The water used for the rinse is typically heavily salted in order to aid the rinsing process.

The woman, whose name is being withheld, had been using her neti pot for one month when a small red rash appeared on the side of her nose. When she returned to her doctor with this complaint, she was prescribed a topical skin ointment. The rash didn’t clear and she continued to seek treatment, but ultimately failed to obtain any useful diagnosis.

One year later, the woman had her first seizure. Upon being hospitalized, a CT scan revealed a half-inch lesion in her brain. She underwent brain surgery to remove the mass, but only days later she lost all feeling in her left arm and leg and began to experience a psychotic state.

Only one doctor who saw the woman before her death suggested that the problem might be an amoebic infection, but by then it was too late. Her condition rapidly deteriorated. Her family ultimately decided to take her off life support.

Post-mortem lab tests revealed the culprit: Balamuthia mandrillaris, a brain-eating amoeba that is found in soil and possibly freshwater.

In 2013, a Louisiana man contracted Naegleria fowleri, another amoeba, after using a neti pot. He died after the amoeba reached his brain.

More than 200 cases of Balamuthia infection have been diagnosed globally with at least 70 cases in the U.S., according to the CDC. A doctor who treated the late woman cautioned, “It is possible that many more cases […] have been missed."