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


A woman in Seattle died from a rare brain-eating amoeba that she most likely contracted while using a neti pot, according to multiple reports.

"When I operated on this lady, a section of her brain about the size of a golf ball was bloody mush", Charles Cobbs, a neurosurgeon at Swedish Medical Center, told the Seattle Times. But the next day, they discovered that her brain was teeming with the amoeba.

"There were these amoebae all over the place just eating brain cells".

According to the CDC, most cases of Balamuthia mandrillaris aren't diagnosed until immediately before death or after death, so doctors don't have a lot of experience treating the amoeba and know little about how a person becomes infected. She used tap water that had been filtered with a Brita Water Purifier.

They think that she did so with tap water for a year, and that this may have led to the amoeba infecting her brain.

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The amoebas can be found in fresh-water sources around Puget Sound but aren't present in city-treated water, Liz Coleman, a spokeswoman for the Environmental Public Health division of the state's Department of Health, told the paper.

The contaminated water went up the woman's nose "toward [the] olfactory nerves in the upper part of her nasal cavity", The Seattle Times reported, which ultimately caused the infection which first appeared as a red sore on her nose.

Her case is reported this week in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases.

Over the next several days, additional scans revealed that whatever was happening in her brain was getting worse. There have been over 200 diagnoses of the disease worldwide, 70 of which were in the USA, per the CDC. This single-celled organism is not to be confused with Naegleria fowleri, another brain-eating amoeba that also lives in freshwater. Tap water can contain tiny organisms that are safe to drink but could survive in nasal passages. They hope her case will let other doctors know to consider an amoeba infection if a patient gets a sore or rash on the nose after rinsing their sinuses.

It is thought the amoebas are primarily soil-based, but the "exact environmental niche is really unknown", Cope said in an email. That said, the woman's case was rare; there were only three similar cases in the USA from 2008 to 2017, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). There are molds and fungi that can kill you if it infects your brain. But then Hopkins pathologists came back with a verdict: The infection looked "amoebic", said Cobbs, who thought, "that's ridiculous", upon hearing the news.