Louisiana’s state health department has issued a warning about the dangers of improperly using nasal-irrigation devices called neti pots, responding to two recent deaths in the state that are thought to have resulted from “brain-eating amoebas” entering people’s brains through their sinuses while they were using the devices.
Obviously the phrase “brain-eating amoebas” stands out. Anyway, what happens when you improperly pour water up your sinuses?
[R]apidly progressive dementia, leading to memory loss, personality changes and hallucinations. This is accompanied by physical problems such as speech impairment, jerky movements (myoclonus), balance and coordination dysfunction (ataxia), changes in gait, rigid posture, and seizures. The duration of the disease varies greatly, but sporadic (non-inherited) CJD can be fatal within months or even weeks (Johnson, 1998). In some people, the symptoms can continue for years. In most patients, these symptoms are followed by involuntary movements and the appearance of an atypical diagnostic electroencephalogram tracing. Most victims die 6 months after initial symptoms appear, often of pneumonia due to impaired coughing reflexes. About 15% of patients survive 2 or more years.
Actually, not. That’s from the Wikipedia page for Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, better known as the human strain of Mad Cow. The disease, fortunately is not particularly widespread, affecting literally one in a million Americans. I’d recommend not reading up on this particularly mysterious disease unless you want to grow increasingly terrified by any number of theories. One in particular holds that Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease is caused by cannibalism, then the disease incubates for half a century or so, at which point it starts ravaging all the unsuspecting brains in its path. Another one ties it to eating squirrel in Kentucky. The point is, it’s all a great unknown.
But that’s yesterday’s brain-eating news! Back to the Louisiana neti pot mystery:
When the [two victims] used these pots to force the water up their noses and flush out their sinus cavities — a treatment for colds and hay fever — a deadly amoeba living in the tap water, called Naegleria fowleri, worked its way from their sinuses into their brains. The parasitic organism infected the victims’ brains with a neurological disease called primary amoebic meningoencephalitis (PAME), which rapidly destroys neural tissue and typically kills sufferers in a matter of days.
Ok, so the issue is merely that there was some not-entirely-clean water in Louisiana–and really, if we can’t trust the local government there, then what can we trust?–that killed two people because a bacteria that the authorities say is safe to do pretty much anything except squirt directly in the direction of your brain. Everything’s still OK, everybody. Enjoy this not-at-all foreshadowing musical song and proceed with your lives.