Seattle woman dies after contracting rare form of brain-eating amoeba

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An elderly woman was killed by a brain-eating amoeba after using filtered tap water to clear her sinuses.

But the problems never went away.

The woman, who was 69 years old, died in February - roughly a month after doctors discovered the amoeba in her brain and about a year after she was initially infected.

A Seattle woman died after becoming infected with a brain-eating amoeba.

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For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today. These sorts of infections are quite rare, but what's unique about this incident is that it's the "first case of Balamuthia mandrillaris brain infection suspected from nasal lavage", according to the case study, which was authored by Swedish scientists and the doctors who worked on the case, Cobbs included.

"This is extremely rare".

"Improper nasal irrigation has been reported as a method of infection for the comparably insidious amoeba", the doctors say in the research paper about the Seattle woman.

The woman had been prescribed a neti pot to flush out her nasal cavity because she had a sinus infection, per a case report published in International Journal of Infectious Diseases. Her doctor told her it was rosacea and prescribed an ointment, according to the report. Within a week, she was in a coma, and her family chose to take her off life support.

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Cope said all three amoeba types have similar rates of prevalence, but Balamuthia mandrillaris is the least-recognized among the medical community because it is rarely documented, providing limited opportunity for research. "We didn't have any clue what was going on, but when we got the actual tissue we could see it was the amoebae", Dr. Charles Cobbs, a neurosurgeon at Swedish Medical Center, told the Seattle Times. It can happen in other places, too - one case in Texas might have been contracted at a surf resort, McClatchy previously reported.

Researchers found that the single-celled organisms likely infected the woman's brain through her nasal cavity by way of a neti pot, a teapot shaped product used to rinse out the sinuses, about a year earlier.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the devices are safe, but recommends people use only boiled water or saline.

"However, unfortunately it is possible for these organisms to get into tap water as well at times, and that's why I do always counsel my patients to use distilled water when rinsing". But then Hopkins pathologists came back with a verdict: The infection looked "amoebic", said Cobbs, who thought, "that's ridiculous", upon hearing the news.

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