A woman from Seattle, Washington, whose brain was in part a "bloody mush ball" after a rare amoeba that ate the brain had infected her, probably had contracted the organisms after using a neti full of tap water to free nasal sinuses, according to a report.
The woman, who was not identified, was admitted to the Swedish Medical Center at the start of this year after having an attack, according to the Seattle Times. An initial CT scan revealed what doctors thought was a tumor.
But they soon learned that what was inside the woman's skull was not a tumor at all.
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"When I worked with this lady, a section of her brain the size of a golf ball," told the Seattle Times Charles Cobbs, a neurosurgeon at the Swedish Medical Center. "There were these amoebas everywhere that ate only brain cells."
"We had no idea what was happening," he added.
The tissue taken from the woman's brain during the procedure would later confirm the presence of the amoeba, particularly the Balamuthia mandrillaris – which causes a rare but potentially fatal brain infection known as granulomatous encephalitis (GAE), according to the publication.
The woman, who was 69, died in February – about a month after doctors discovered the amoeba in her brain and about a year after she was initially infected.
According to a study recently published in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases, doctors believe that the woman probably became infected when she used tap water in her neti pot, a teapot-like vessel used to wash away the nasal passages.
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The contaminated water came up the woman's nose "towards [the] olfactory nerves in the upper part of its nasal cavity, "reported the Seattle Times, which eventually caused the infection that first appeared as a red sore on its nose.
"It is such a rare disease that it was not on anyone's radar that this initial nose ache would have been connected to his brain," Keenan Piper, an employee of the Swedish Medical Center and co-author of the study, told the newspaper.
Health officials suggest using only distilled, sterile or previously boiled water to rinse the breasts. Tap water can contain microorganisms that are safe to drink but that could survive in nasal passages. That said, the woman's case was rare; there were only three similar cases in the United States from 2008 to 2017, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The Associated Press contributed to this report.