Neti Pots Can Transmit Brain Eating Amoebas

By Amir Khan on August 23, 2012 10:42 AM EDT

Neti Pot
People who use neti pots to clean out their nasal passages need to make sure that the water they are using is sterile, according to a new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Photo: Creative Commons)

People who use neti pots to clean out their nasal passages need to make sure that the water they are using is sterile, according to a new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Two people in Louisiana died after contracting "brain-eating amoebas" by using regular tap water in their neti pots, experts said.

The cases occurred months apart in different parts of Louisiana in 2011, and experts say they are the first known cases of tap water causing a brain infection when used in a neti pot. The amoebas, known as Naegleria fowleri, are almost always deadly, with only one person ever surviving the infection.

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"It's a tragic infection," Jonathan Yoder, coordinator of waterborne diseases and outbreak surveillance at the CDC, told LiveScience.

But before people worry, Yoder was quick to mention infections from the amoebas are exceedingly rare, and said people are not at risk for it.

"We don't know that there's a big risk from this - most cases occur from swimming in warm, fresh water," Yoder said.

There were 32 cases of N. fowleri infections reported in the U.S. between 2002 and 2011, and 28 of them were caused by people swimming in lakes and rivers.

For one person who contracted it through the neti pot, the amoebas were found in their water heater. In the other, they were found in the sink and bathtub faucets. Researchers said it's important to boil, filter or distill their water before using it to clear your nasal passages.

Researchers said they were unsure how the amoebas made it into the water supply, as municipal water filtration systems are designed to remove them.

"We tested the water mains outside the homes, the water treatment plants, water towers - the organisms were not anywhere," Yoder said. "We just don't have any evidence of how they got in there."

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