The woman, a Swedish Medical Center patient, likely contracted the brain-eating amoeba from the water in her nasal rinse, Swedish doctors said. And that's where things went wrong, according to a recent report of the woman's case.
The 69 year-old, who has not been named, was taken to the Swedish Medical Center near her home in Seattle after suffering a seizure this year.
Over the next several days, additional scans revealed that whatever was happening in her brain was getting worse. Later, the CDC determined that the infection was cause by the "brain-eating" amoeba B. mandrillaris. She was advised to try and flush out her sinuses and nasal cavity using water.
But when Cobbs operated to remove the mass, "it was just dead brain tissue", making it hard to determine what it actually was. It was sent to a lab at the prestigious Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, where a scientists said he suspected an amoeba infection. The amoeba was discovered by CDC scientists in the brain of a dead mandrill baboon in 1986, and it was declared a new species of amoeba in 1993. But the woman's condition was deteriorating.
Most cases of brain-eating amoebas have been found in places like California, Arizona and Texas but Dr. Cobbs did say that over time, because of climate change, the amoeba could learn to survive in cooler areas like in Washington state.
"We didn't have any clue what was going on", he added. "I was pretty much shocked because I'd never seen that before", Cobbs told KIRO-TV.
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"After a month of using non-sterile water for nasal lavage without success, she developed a quarter-sized red raised rash on the right side of the bridge of her nose and raw red skin at the nasal opening, which was thought to be rosacea", the report states. The CDC says it's possible that the amoeba may also live in water.
Such infections are very rare. It appears that this woman became infected with the amoeba through flushing of her sinuses with the tap water.
"She had not been boiling water, using sterile water or using sterile saline".
"It's extremely important to use sterile saline or sterile water", Dr. Cobbs said. They wrote a case study for the International Journal of Infectious Diseases to educate other doctors on their rare findings.
Unlike N. fowleri, B. mandrillaris is much more hard to detect, according to the report. There have only been around 200 reported cases of infection worldwide, although around 70 of those cases were in the US alone, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.