SEATTLE, Wash. - A Seattle woman is dead after brain-eating amoeba entered her body. Doctors think she became infected by doing something at home typically thought to keep your 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," neurosurgeon Dr. Charles Cobb told KIRO.
He operated on the 69-year-old woman who was suffering from seizures and removed a brain tumor the size of a dime. A sample was sent to a pathologist at Johns Hopkins for a second opinion. "He thought it looked suspicious for amoeba infection. I was pretty much shocked because I'd never seen that before," said Cobb.
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The woman's condition quickly worsened. During a second surgery to remove the tumor, it became clear why. "It had grown from about dime sized to about the size of a baseball at that point," said Cobb. Amoeba eat brain tissue.
The woman told doctors she used a neti pot on a regular basis. "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," said Cobb.
There are warnings on the package of a neti pot, telling users not to use with tap water. "This is so rare. There have only been like 200 cases, ever," said Cobb.
The Seattle 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. Doctors now they think it was.
"It's not something to be scared about because it's extraordinarily rare, but still there's a lot to learn," said Cobb. Doctors made the diagnosis while the woman was still alive.
The Centers for Disease Control overnighted medicine to the hospital, but it arrived too late to save her.