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PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – There are new concerns about the safety of neti pots after it was revealed a woman died from a brain eating amoeba after using one. When used correctly, neti pots are safe. They’re used by people with sinus trouble to rise the nasal cavity, but the woman who had the brain-eating amoeba used tap water.
At first, doctors thought she had a brain tumor.
“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.
Cobbs operated on the unidentified 69-year-old woman who was suffering from seizures, related to improper use of a neti pot.
The brain tumor, which was the size of a dime, was sent to a pathologist for a second opinion.
“He thought it looked suspicious for amoeba infection,” said Cobbs. “I was pretty much shocked because I’d never seen that before.”
That woman, who had chronic sinus infections, told doctors she used a neti pot on a regular basis. They’re used to clean nasal passages.
“She had not been boiling water, using sterile water or using sterile saline,” said Cobbs. “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.”
There are warnings on neti pots that say, “Do not use with tap water.” Even with improper use, experts say amoeba infections are rare.
“It’s not something to be scared about because it’s extraordinarily rare but still there’s a lot to learn,” added Cobbs.
The woman had apparently used tap water that was filtered but doctors say even if it’s safe for drinking, it may still contain other contaminants that can be harmful to the nasal passages.
With a neti pot you, have to use distilled water that’s purchased in a bottle — even bottled spring water still has to be boiled.