Dangerous New Amoeba Infections Linked to Neti Pot Use

Health officials found links between using tap water in neti pots or other nasal rinsing devices and a new type of potentially deadly amoeba infection.

While scientists already know that using non-sterile water in a neti pot or similar device to rinse sinuses carries a slight risk of infection from Naegleria fowleri, AKA the “brain-eating amoeba,” a recent study has identified yet another threat.

According to an Emerging Infectious Diseases report published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Acanthamoeba, an amoeba found worldwide in soil and many types of water, including lakes, rivers, and tap water, is also linked to infections via neti pot use.

The report describes 10 people who became infected with Acanthamoeba after using tap water for nasal rinsing. All were immunocompromised. Seven of the individuals survived the illness, which the CDC says is surprising given the high mortality rate associated with Acanthamoeba infection. Moreover, nine of the infections occurred within the past 10 years.

The CDC notes that while it could not definitively determine that neti pot use was the route of transmission, all 10 people reported engaging in nasal rinsing before becoming ill. One person developed symptoms after two weeks of rinsing, while the others had been engaging in this practice for years. The frequency of nasal rinsing among the individuals ranged from once per week to five times per day.

Though Acanthamoeba and other amoeba have been detected in more than 50% of tap water samples in the United States, the CDC says a recent study revealed that 33% of American adults believe that tap water is sterile, and 62% think it’s safe to use in nasal rinsing devices.

The CDC urges people who use nasal rinsing devices to use boiled, sterile, or distilled water. The agency recommends boiling tap water for a minimum of 1 minute or 3 minutes at elevations greater than 1,980 meters and allowing it to cool before using it.

In February 2023, a Florida man died from a Naegleria fowleri infection that health officials say was possibly linked to using tap water for sinus rinsing.


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