Balamuthia, a single-celled living organism, can cause a rare and serious infection of the brain and spinal cord called Granulomatous Amebic Encephalitis (GAE). (Credit: Centers for Disease Control)
SEATTLE, Wash. (FOX 10) -- Doctors believe a woman who died from rare brain-eating amoebas used tap water to rinse her sinuses.
The 69-year-old Seattle resident died in February after undergoing brain surgery at Swedish Medical Center. Her doctor tells The Seattle Times there was "amoeba all over the place just eating brain cells."
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.
Health officials suggest using only distilled, sterile or previously boiled water to rinse sinuses.
"Tap water isn’t safe for use as a nasal rinse because it’s not adequately filtered or treated. Some tap water contains low levels of organisms — such as bacteria and protozoa, including amoebas — that may be safe to swallow because stomach acid kills them. But in your nose, these organisms can stay alive in nasal passages and cause potentially serious infections," according to U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Per the CDC, "Initial symptoms of PAM [primary amoebic meningoencephalitis] start about 5 days (range 1 to 9 days) after infection. The initial symptoms may include headache, fever, nausea, or vomiting. Later symptoms can include stiff neck, confusion, lack of attention to people and surroundings, loss of balance, seizures, and hallucinations. After the start of symptoms, the disease progresses rapidly and usually causes death within about 5 days (range 1 to 12 days)."
Such infections are very rare. There were three similar U.S. cases from 2008 to 2017.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.