Doctors say amoebas in tap water turned woman’s brain into ‘bloody mush’
A Seattle woman unwittingly injected deadly brain-eating amoebas into her nasal cavity when she rinsed out her sinuses with tap water, according to a new report.
Doctors performing brain surgery on the 69-year-old woman in January were shocked when what they had initially thought was a tumor, based on a CT scan, turned out to be a swarm of deadly amoebas munching away at her insides.
“When I operated on this lady, a section of her brain about the size of a golf ball was bloody mush,” Dr. Charles Cobbs, neurosurgeon at Swedish Medical Center, told the Seattle Times. “There were these amoeba all over the place just eating brain cells. We didn’t have any clue what was going on, but when we got the actual tissue, we could see it was the amoeba.”
The unnamed woman died a month after the surgery from the infection, called granulomatous amoebic encephalitis, according to a case study published this month in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases.
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.
Rather than filling up the neti pot with saline or sterile water, as is recommended, she used tap water filtered through a store-bought filter, researchers found. But they weren’t able to test her tap water to confirm that the Balamuthia mandrillaris amoebas were there.
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.
People can’t be infected by simply swallowing water contaminated with amoebas.
The case is the second ever reported in Seattle — the first was in 2013. It is the first fatality from this kind of infection in the state.
New Jersey health officials linked another kind of brain-eating amoeba, Naegleria fowleri, to the October death of a man who is believed to have been infected while surfing in an indoor water park.