12:54 AM PST, December 16, 2011
NEW ORLEANS, LA. -- A sinus-flushing device used to relieve colds and allergies has been linked to a brain-eating amoeba responsible for the deaths of at least 2 people.
Health officials in Louisiana issued a warning about neti pots - which are commonly used to irrigate sinuses.
The alert follows the deaths of a 51-year-old woman and a 20-year-old man from Naegleria fowleri, the 'brain-eating amoeba.'
It is thought the amoeba entered their brains when they used the devices.
A 51-year-old DeSoto Parish woman died after using tap water in a neti pot to irrigate her sinuses and became infected by the deadly amoeba, which entered the body through her nose.
In June, a 20-year-old St. Bernard Parish man died under the same circumstances.
"If you are irrigating, flushing, or rinsing your sinuses, for example, by using a neti pot, use distilled, sterile or previously boiled water to make up the irrigation solution," said Louisiana State Epidemiologist, Dr. Raoult Ratard.
"Tap water is safe for drinking, but not for irrigating your nose."
It's also important to rinse the irrigation device after each use and leave open to air dry, he said.
The very rare infection typically occurs when people go swimming or diving in warm freshwater lakes and rivers.
The amoeba causes a brain infection that leads to the destruction of brain tissue.
In its early stages, symptoms may be similar to symptoms of bacterial meningitis and can include headache, fever, nausea, vomiting and stiff neck. Later symptoms include confusion, loss of balance, seizures and hallucinations.
After the start of symptoms, the disease progresses rapidly and usually causes death within one to 12 days.