SEATTLE (KOMO) — What started as a sinus infection quickly turned into a rare brain-eating infection, ending in the death of a 69-year-old Seattle woman.
The woman had been using a neti pot to rinse her sinuses, according to the case report describing the very unusual infection.
But instead of adding saline or sterile water, she chose unfiltered tap water. About a month later, she developed a quarter-size red rash on the right side of her nose and raw red skin at the nasal opening.
Despite several visits to the doctor, the rash didn’t go away. A year later, the woman had a seizure, with a CT scan revealing a 1.5-centimeter lesion in her brain.
Doctors at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle thought it was a tumor, but when trying to remove the mass, they couldn’t tell exactly what it was. A sample was sent to neurologists at John Hopkins for analysis.
The woman was sent home after surgery and brought back for a second one after it was discovered that the infection looked amoebic, which is a parasitic infection that can travel up into the brain. She was also given medicine to treat the infection. But it was too late -- the woman’s condition had already been deteriorating and the infection was too severe.
It was only after the woman’s death that additional results came back from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, revealing that she had a brain-eating amoeba called Balamuthia mandrillaris.
Doctors say it was likely due to the unsterile water from the neti pot that led to the woman’s infection and death.
Because the Balamuthia mandrillaris infection is hard to diagnose, it’s possible that many other cases of the infection have been missed, the authors wrote in the report. Doctors warn that people who develop a nasal rash after using non-sterile water may be at a high risk for developing amoeba skin infections.
There have been about 200 cases of this infection worldwide, with at least 70 reported in America.