The improper use of Neti Pots, used for irrigating sinuses, can be dangerous and sometimes fatal, the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals warned people today after the death of a second person this year from a brain-eating ameba – Naegleria fowleri. A DeSoto Parish woman, aged 51 years, died after irrigating her sinuses using a Neti Pot filled with tap water; she became infected with the ameba.

Spelling: Ameba and Amoeba are both possible spellings.

In June this year, a 20-year old male from St. Bernard Parish died – he had done the same as the 51-year old woman who died.

Naegleria fowleri enters the human body through the nose and causes infection. The Neti Pot looks like a genie’s lamp and is used to irrigate sinuses.

Louisiana State Epidemiologist, Dr. Raoult Ratard, said:

“If you are irrigating, flushing, or rinsing your sinuses, for example, by using a neti pot, use distilled, sterile or previously boiled water to make up the irrigation solution. Tap water is safe for drinking, but not for irrigating your nose.”

After each use, the Neti Pot should be thoroughly rinsed and left open to dry, Ratard added.

A female irrigating her sinuses using a neti pot

Naegleria fowleri infection can occur after swimming in rivers and freshwater lakes. More rarely, people may also become infected when swimming in poorly treated swimming pools, submerge their heads into contaminated tap water, or irrigate their sinuses with contaminated tap water (that was not boiled).

Naegleria fowleri infection does not occur from drinking the water – the parasite has to enter through the nose.

Naegleria fowleri infection can lead to PAM amebic meningoencephalitis, an infection of the brain in which tissue dies. Initially, PAM signs and symptoms are very similar to those of bacterial meningitis.

PAM symptoms may appear between one and seven days after the human is infected, and may include fever, nausea, vomiting, stiff neck and headache. The patient may eventually experience confusion, loss of balance, seizures, hallucinations and unawareness of what is going on around him/her. Most patients with PAM eventually die.

According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), there were 32 reported Naegleria fowleri infections from 2001 through 2010 in the USA. Thirty of the patients had become infected after contact with recreational water, while the other two became infected from a geothermal drinking water supply.

Naegleria fowleri is also known as “brain-eating ameba”. It exists in nature in three forms: a cyst, a trophozoite (ameboid) and a flagellate.

Naegleria (formes)
Three stages of Naegleria fowleri

Written by Christian Nordqvist