Safety of neti pots questioned after 2 deaths from brain-eating amoeba

This vessel resembling Aladdin's lamp is called a neti pot, which is used for nasal irrigation.
Todd Sumlin | KRT
This vessel resembling Aladdin's lamp is called a neti pot, which is used for nasal irrigation.
Posted Dec. 20, 2011, at 10:18 p.m.

A Madison, Wis., doctor who helped popularize nasal washing with the help of a neti pot said Monday that her product is safe despite warnings from a Louisiana epidemiologist attributing neti pots to two recent deaths.

Dr. Diane Heatley, a pediatric otolaryngology (ear, nose, throat) surgeon at the UW Hospital, said in a statement that her nasal washing systems, called SinuCleanse, “are safe to use with any clean water supply, including bottled water, distilled water or previously boiled water that is cooled to body temperature before use.”

Joe Grande, Madison’s water quality manager, took it one step further and said Madison’s tap water is also safe to use for nasal washing because it doesn’t contain the amoeba that caused the deaths in Louisiana.

“Here in Madison I would assume it’s safe because there should be no way in tap water that they are getting those microbes,” Grande said.

Raoult Ratard, the state epidemiologist for the Louisiana Department of Health, said that two Louisiana residents died this year of encephalitis caused by infection with Naegleria fowleri, a rare, brain-eating amoeba usually found in stagnant, warm water. It can kill if it travels to the brain through the nose.

Ratard said both victims, a 20-year-old man and 51-year-old woman, used neti pots — a nasal irrigation device — for nasal washing, which helps reduce symptoms of colds, allergies and sinus problems. He added that the woman’s brain tissue and tap water in her home tested positive for the amoeba.

“Drinking water is good to drink, very safe to drink, but not to push up your nose,” Ratard was quoted as saying in news stories.

Grande said that may be true for Louisiana, which is much warmer, but not for Madison’s tap water.

“I don’t know where they get their water from,” Grande said of tap water in Louisiana. “It’s very possible they are getting their water from the Mississippi River and it’s possible that it’s not being treated appropriately or it’s not being treated enough to get rid of those amoebas.”

Madison’s tap water is ground water from a cooler climate that Grande said is safe from amoebas and protozoans like cryptosporidium that can case gastro-intestinal illness. “All these things get naturally filtered out as they are pumped through the ground, so there should be no opportunity for those to be transmitted back into the water supply,” he said.

Rachel Kuna, a spokeswoman for Med-Systems, which manufactures SinuCleanse, recommended that consumers make sure the neti pots are clean before each use, too. “A neti pot can’t hurt you,” she said. “It’s not harmful.”

 

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