Neti Pots Linked to Eye, Brain and Spinal Cord Infections Caused by Amoeba in Water

The CDC recommends people use distilled water instead of tap water, which is not sterile, for nasal irrigation practices

<p>Getty</p> Stock image of woman using a neti pot.


Stock image of woman using a neti pot.
  • The CDC says that neti pots may be a transmission route for the invasive microorganism Acanthamoeba 

  • The amoeba can cause eye and skin infections — as well a serious brain and spinal cord infection, Granulomatous Encephalitis — that is often fatal

  • The CDC says tap water isn’t sterile and should not be used for nasal irrigation  

The use of neti pots and other types of nasal irrigation has been linked to Acanthamoeba infections — an amoeba that may be found in non-sterile water — according to the CDC.

Neti pots are commonly used to flush the nasal passages, helping to alleviate allergy symptoms or clear mucus during a sinus infection. “Neti pots…allow you to pour saline into your nostrils, as if you were pouring tea from a teapot,” the Cleveland Clinic says.

The saline goes up one nostril, through the nasal passages, and out the other nostril.

But as the CDC points out in its report, ten people with Acanthamoeba infections said they’d practiced nasal irrigation before being infected with Acanthamoeba.

Three of the patients in the CDC’s report died from their infections.

<p>Getty</p> Tap water flowing from a faucet.


Tap water flowing from a faucet.

The amoeba primarily causes two types of dangerous infections: Acanthamoeba keratitis, and Granulomatous Encephalitis.

Acanthamoeba keratitis affects the eyes, causing pain, blurred vision, and sensitivity to light.

Related: Why Your Seasonal Allergies Are Worse Than Ever This Year

Granulomatous Encephalitis is an infection of the brain and spinal cord, which the CDC says causes “headaches, stiff neck, nausea and vomiting, tiredness, confusion, lack of attention to people and surroundings, loss of balance and bodily control, seizures, and hallucinations.”

With Granulomatous Encephalitis, “death usually occurs,” the CDC says.

The CDC points out that in immunocompromised people, Acanthamoeba can also cause skin lesions.

“One patient developed symptoms after only 2 weeks of nasal rinsing, whereas others had been nasal rinsing for years.” the CDC says in its report.

Acanthamoeba is the second type of amoeba linked to neti pots, as infections caused by Naegleria fowleri — commonly known as the brain-eating amoeba — have been attributed to tap water's use in nasal irrigation.

Related: Woman Contracted Rare and Fatal Brain-Eating Amoeba After Using Neti Pot with Tap Water: Doctor

As the Mayo Clinic points out, you should only “use water labeled as distilled or sterilized” for nasal irrigation. If using tap water, you should “boil it for several minutes and then let it cool until it's only slightly warm, called lukewarm.“

The problem, the CDC says, is that most people don’t realize tap water isn’t sterile.

“Tap water in the United States is treated to meet safe drinking standards; however, low levels of microorganisms remain in drinking water distribution systems, wells, and premise plumbing,” a report published in the National Library of Medicine says, saying that up to one-third of respondents “incorrectly answered that tap water does not have bacteria or living things present.”

And "more than half ...of participants said that tap water could be used for rinsing sinuses," the report said.

"Educating against the use of unboiled tap water for nasal rinsing may be effective in preventing invasive Acanthamoeba infections,” the CDC concludes in its report, “particularly among immunocompromised hosts.”

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