SEATTLE (KIRO/CNN) - A woman is dead after a brain-eating amoeba entered her body. Doctors think she became infected by doing something at home typically thought to keep the sinuses healthy.
“Frankly, it was the last thing I had in my mind when I went in to operate on what I thought was a typical brain tumor,” said Dr. Charles Cobbs, a neurosurgeon at Swedish Medical Center.
He operated on the 69-year-old woman, who was suffering from seizures, removing a brain tumor that was the size of a dime and sent a sample to a pathologist at Johns Hopkins for a second opinion.
“He thought it looked suspicious for amoeba infection,” Cobbs said. “I was pretty much shocked because I’d never seen that before.”
The woman’s condition quickly worsened, and when he did a second surgery two weeks later, “it had grown from about dime-sized to about the size of a baseball at that point.”
They made the diagnosis while the woman was still alive. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention overnighted medicine to the hospital, but it arrived too late to save her.
The amoeba eat brain tissue, he said.
The woman told doctors she used a Neti pot to flush out her nasal passages on a regular basis for about a month, researchers said in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases, when she developed a rash on her nose.
There are warnings on the package of a Neti pot: “Do not use with tap water.”
“She had not been boiling water or using sterile water or using sterile saline. 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. So that’s what we suspect is the source of the infection,” Cobbs said.
The woman had a sore on her nose for about nine months. While it was biopsied, there was no reason to think it would be caused by amoeba. Now they think it was.
“I believe it actually got in the blood stream and somehow ended up in the brain. Because it wasn’t directly from the nose to the brain, it somehow ended up in the brain way back here,” said Cobbs, pointing to the back of his head.
“This is so rare, There have only been like 200 cases, ever,” Cobbs said. “It’s not something to be scared about because it’s extraordinarily rare, but still there’s a lot to learn.”