Seattle woman dies after contracting rare form of brain-eating amoeba

Woman Uses Neti Pot, Ends Up With Brain-Eating Amoeba

Researchers are also "limited in our understanding" of the factors that increase the likelihood of contracting the disease, which may include a compromised immune system, genetics, and environmental factors, Keenan Piper, a member of the Swedish team that produced the study.

A year after the rash developed, the woman had a seizure. This wasn't necessarily surprising, Cobbs told Live Science, as the woman had a history of breast cancer. "We didn't have any clue what was going on, but when we got the actual tissue we could see it was the amoeba", Cobbs added.

Another type of brain-eating amoeba, commonly found in warm water and more generally known to doctors and the public, is called Naegleria fowleri. "She wasn't boiling the water or using sterile saline, she was filtering it, but maybe somehow it got contaminated".

As a user of neti pots, this comes as a shock to me.

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Unlike N. fowleri, B. mandrillaris is much more hard to detect, according to the report.

These amoebas traditionally live in the warm climates of South and Central America, but climate change may be opening up new habitats - including in northern U.S. states like Washington. According to the CDC, the amoeba was discovered in 1986 and officially declared a new species in 1993.

As in the Seattle woman's case, the infections are "almost uniformly fatal", with a death rate of more than 89%, according to the doctors who treated her and the CDC. In cases involving N. fowleri, for example, people have contracted the amoeba by jumping into a lake and having water shoot up their noses. Tap water can contain tiny organisms that are safe to drink but could survive in nasal passages.

Despite the surgeons' best efforts, the woman died a month later.

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"When I operated on this lady, a section of her brain about the size of a golf ball was bloody mush", Dr. Charles Cobbs, neurosurgeon at Swedish, said in a phone interview. But an examination of tissue taken from her brain during surgery a day later showed she was up against a much deadlier attack, one that had been underway for about a year and was literally eating her alive.

"Despite aggressive anti-amoebic therapy, the patient's condition continued to deteriorate", the report states. Then the numbness began on her left side. Repeat CT imaging demonstrated further haemorrhage into the original resection cavity. Within a week, she was in a coma, and her family made a decision to take her off life support.

Indeed, the incident shows how notoriously hard it is to correctly diagnose this kind of infection.

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