Brain-eating amoeba kills via neti pot

A cautionary tale for Boing Boing readers who like to irrigate their nasal passages with warm salt water during the cold season: don't use water right out of the tap. (via @heathermg)


  1. My favorite line from that item, in describing a neti pot: “…and looks like a genie’s lamp.” Oh, okay, that explains it perfectly. 

  2. Wait, I end up with water up my nose all the time from bathing or washing my face. I’m sure a lot of people do. Granted a neti pot is a lot more water coming into more contact with your nasal cavity walls, but damn. 

    1. Generally you have to be half-drowned to get the sort of “snorting water up in to the weirdest crevices of my head” effect you get with nasal irrigation. Or at least I need to. I don’t get water much past the cartilage-y bit under normal living…

  3. To me, the real news is that tap water in Louisiana contains amoebas.  Next time I’m there, I’ll make even more of a point of sticking with beer.

        1. Every water system in the US has a staff of microbiologists whose job is to monitor the microbial counts. If it’s too high (or if serious pathogens are detected) they will put out a warning telling people to boil or avoid using the water, but it isn’t ever zero even on good days. It’s also a pretty standard experiment in beginning microbiology courses to plate tap water and see what grows up.

  4. the article blames the neti pot, but shouldn’t we be blaming the water? where did they get this water? a lake? or is Louisiana using inadequate chlorination?

    if snorting water is strongly associated with brain amoebas, wouldn’t we see babies dropping dead nationwide??

    sad story: ridiculous conclusion.

  5. And I thought I had trouble with neti pots, just from water painfully sloshing around inside my ears for weeks afterwards. (Apparently it’s a common variation in the position of the eustachian tubes.) Okay, this is worse.

  6. This right here is the stuff of my nightmares, and the reason I stopped using my neti pot. (Having to boil the water, and then let it cool down, pushes the whole exercise over into too-much-of-a-pain-in-the-ass territory for me.) 

    1. I’m a horrible packaging-producing consumer whore and use the commercial spray cans of saline solution instead of a neti pot. This is because I have a bad case of a very specific fear of tainted water up my nose.

      Not joking. Really specialized phobia. Probably due to lifelong recurring sinusitis, but yeah.

  7. GAH “The organism begins to consume cells of the brain piecemeal by means of a unique sucking apparatus extended from its cell surface.”

    Thanks Wikipedia. Gah!

  8. but this is really a thermal protist that thrives in tropical climates and around thermal vents. I don’t think this will happen in the northeast.

  9. Eek- feel bad for poor lady.

    The allergist who started me on a lifetime of neti pot use told me to use distilled water, because there is enough bacteria in tap water to occasionally cause problems.

    When traveling I’ve generally used bottled water, but now I’m thinkin’ I’ll make the extra effort to either bring distilled water with me or get some at my destination….

  10. man oh man…98% mortality rate??? That’s a bio-weapon on par with anthrax

    cultivate some of these nasty little guys and put them in a special someone’s contact lens solution, nasal spray, eye drops, etc… anything that goes into the skull, basically.

    Now pour it all down the drain and soak your petri dishes in bleach.

    There’s no way to prove it didn’t come from the tap water.

  11. Huh, never heard of a neti pot. Weird.

    Anyway, Naegleria fowleri is found only in warmer water of a certain temperature  range, EG, some of the hot springs i frequent hear in southern Nevada (as well as others worldwide), or sufficiently sun warmed fresh waters. It can of course survive for a finite time in cooler water if it is flushed from the spring into a river or something. You generally do not risk exposure in cool water.So, it would seem that the water source for these people in Louisiana has to be either A, quite warm, or B, at least in close proximity to warmer waters that support populations of the amoebas. Also, Only 33 people from 1998 – 2007 in the US… so, Meh.Just don’t get water up your nose, it doesn’t belong there anyway…

  12. The last line of the linked article contains some interesting info from Louisiana State Epidemiologist, Dr. Raoult Ratard:

    “Tap water is safe for drinking, but not for irrigating your nose.”

    Say what?

    1. Your alimentary canal can handle all sorts of nasties that the mucus membranes in your nasal canal cannot.

  13. Hearing about this amoeba needing warm water to survive, I’m thinking the problem most likely resides in the hot water tank. Sort of makes me glad I have a tankless.

  14. I generally sterilize an empty 2 liter bottle and then boil up 2 liters of water with my sea salt and pinch of baking soda in it. That makes sure there is no contamination from the water or the sea salt or the baking soda. Then I have ready to go, sterile neti pot juice for a couple of weeks.

  15. Much of the evil in your tap water is in the aerator.  Crud collects in there.  We had a little Legionella issue at the hospital and most of the aerators on the wards turned out to be colonized with it.  You can at least take off the aerator and run the water full blast for a few minutes to decrease the concentration of cooties.

  16. Relax, you can treat those brain-eating amoeba by squirting a homoeopathic solution of 
    brain-eating amoeba up your nose with one of those neti pots. If you want to make it more effective then you can, errm, dilute it with more tap-water…

  17. I used to use boiled water.  I think the take home message here is don’t stick plain tapwater up your nose if you live in the US, (or China, India, third world countries, etc.)

  18. The scenario detailed seems so unlikely (especially where I live, in a colder place and in a town that gets its water from a pretty cool river) the risk/benefit ratio seems so low that I’m not going to worry about this.

    But what do I know? I just neti-ed my nose ten minutes ago (like I have most mornings over the last seven years or so), so perhaps I have no brain left.

    I think Maggie should follow this post with a basic statistics chaser!

  19. Well I suppose I could use the water from the stream, then.  But it’s actually a bit more alive than the well water that comes out of my tap. 

    Meh, either way, I’m cool with the local microbes, and don’t wish to become a bubble boy.   ^_^

  20. My netipot is a squeeze bottle. I can clean my entire brain with it. Distilled water might be a good idea. From Google images it is clear there is no dignified way to photograph someone irrigating their sinus.

  21. Well, this is the ZOMG story of the week.  Maybe year.  I’ve been using an “infant ear syringe” when I have a head cold, with salted tap water.  My question is can these brain-eating vampire zombie undead werewolf amoebas survive salty water?  And, if so, do we need the kinda salinity found in mom’s chicken soup, or the dead sea?

  22. I think you are all paranoid news readers. I am calling BS! Didn’t happen and if it did maybe they should have used the packet of goodies that you are suppose to put in the neti pot. I think that would have taken care of the creepy little amoeba. Or maybe they have a hard time following direction, or for that matter reading in LA. Just kidding.

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