69-Year-old woman dies after trying to use tap water to wash out her sinuses
A 69-year-old woman has tragically lost her life after an amoeba made its way through her sinuses and into her brain, as sadly confirmed by doctors who performed the autopsy in this frightening case of personal cleanliness gone wrong.
Her case was reported in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases, where the woman (who was not named in the report) had a niggling sinus infection, and although she followed her prescription to the letter, she didn't quite get the relief that she craved.
"The patient was a 69-year-old female with a distant history of breast cancer. One year prior to diagnosis of the brain infection, she had developed a chronic sinus infection. The patient’s primary care physician had prescribed 800–160 mg sulfamethoxazole–trimethoprim twice daily to treat the acute recurrent maxillary sinusitis, but this did not provide her symptom relief."
As a result, the patient, who was from Seattle, resorted to using a neti pot, which pours saline solution out of one nostril and into the other, as a type of sinus irrigation. But instead of using sterile water for the pot as suggested, she decided to use tap water. This proved to be a grave error.
The woman used the neti pot for about a month, and although she didn't see a relief in her symptoms, the report in the journal said that she ended up with more symptoms than the ones she'd started with.
"[The patient] developed a quarter-sized red raised rash on the right side of the bridge of her nose and raw red skin at the nasal opening, which was thought to be rosacea," the International Journal of Infectious Diseases explained.
Although she was given an ointment to try and relieve the symptoms, this didn't work, and a year after that rash appeared, she reported to another hospital with a seizure, all over the left hand side of her body. It was then that a CT scan revealed an abnormal lesion in her brain, which was believed at the time to be a brain tumour.
But all the while, her situation was getting worse. When neurosurgeon Charles Cobb finally went into her skull to examine her brain, he realised the woman's brain had been infected with Balamuthia mandrillaris, a species of ameoba that doctors believe came from the tap water she washed out her sinuses with.
"When I operated on this lady, a section of her brain about the size of a golf ball was bloody mush," Charles Cobbs 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 US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) rushed anti-amoeba medication to Seattle in an attempt to save the woman's life, but she fell into a coma and died before she could be treated. Balamuthia mandrillaris is only diagnosed at death or shortly before death, according to the CDC, so doctors don't know much about treating the ameoba at the moment.
"Improper nasal irrigation has been reported as a method of infection for the comparably insidious amoeba," explain the researchers in their paper.