Finally, a neurosurgeon at Swedish Medical Center, where the woman was being treated, opened her skull to examine her brain and found that it was infected with amoebae.
"There were these amoebas all over the place just eating brain cells", Cobbs tells the Seattle Times.
But when Cobbs operated to remove the mass, "it was just dead brain tissue", making it hard to determine what it actually was.
If you haven't used a neti pot before, you've probably at least heard of it. She had been using water that had been put through a filter and maybe it had been sitting there and somehow the amoeba from somewhere else got in there. These sorts of infections are quite rare, but what's unique about this incident is that it's the "first case of Balamuthia mandrillaris brain infection suspected from nasal lavage", according to the case study, which was authored by Swedish scientists and the doctors who worked on the case, Cobbs included.
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"If you do use a neti pot. you should be very aware that it has to be absolute sterile water or sterile saline", Cobbs said, according to Q13 News.
The amoeba causes a "very rare disease that is usually fatal" called granulomatous amoebic encephalitis (GAE). "We didn't have any clue what was going on, but when we got the actual tissue we could see it was the amoeba", Cobbs added. A year later, the woman had a seizure, per USA Today.
A variety of types of amoeba can cause deadly brain infections, which can also be contracted from getting fresh water in the nose while swimming. It was microscopic amoebas that were feasting on her brain.
According to a study published in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases, doctors believe the woman likely became infected when she used tap water in her neti pot, a teapot-like vessel used to flush out nasal passages. The fatality rate is almost 100 percent.
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According to Dr. Zara Patel, a professor of otolaryngology at Stanford University, when people use contaminated water to rinse their nose and sinuses, they can be at risk for aggressive infections.
Shortly after contracting the amoeba, the woman developed a red sore on her nose, which was misdiagnosed as the common skin condition rosacea. But the next day, they discovered that her brain was teeming with the amoeba. Repeat CT imaging demonstrated further haemorrhage into the original resection cavity. Within a week, she was in a coma, and her family chose to take her off life support. Instead, distilled or sterile water should be used, or boiled and cooled water.
Balamuthia mandrillaris: As Gizmodo reported, there have only ever been 200 reported cases of B. mandrillaris globally.
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