What disease comes from tap water and kills you by eating away at your brain tissue? That would be primary amoebic meningoencephalitis (PAME), of course. Doesn’t sound familiar? Maybe it should, seeing as you can catch this dose of hyperactive brain-munching amoebas from your handy dandy wintertime friend: the Neti Pot.
While manufacturers recommend users fill their Neti Pots with distilled or sterilized water, some have recently decided to skip that terrible hassle and just use water from the tap—after all, if it’s safe enough to drink, it should be safe enough to shoot up your nostrils, right? If Louisiana’s recently departed could talk, PAME’s two latest victims would be screaming “wrong.”
The deaths of two Louisiana residents have been attributed to this improper Neti Pot use, which caused the tap water-living amoeba Naegleria fowleri to sneak from the sinuses in the nose up to the brain. That is, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is still investigating whether or not the victims had a swim in their local watering hole or if they used a Neti Pot to cure their sniffles.
Jonathan Yoder of the CDC told Fox News said: “Nearly all the cases have resulted from exposure to warm recreational water, such as ponds, rivers and lakes, and the kind of exposure where the water would be forced up the nose — for example, diving and water sports.” Once lodged in the nasal sinuses, the amoebas terrorize the brain tissue and infect their victims with PAME, killing them in mere days. Before you start chucking your Neti Pots into the garbage, fear not: Jonathan Yoder has an explanation:
Apparently, tap water really is safe to drink, even if it is home to these brain-hungry amoebas. What’s not safe is ignoring your Neti Pot’s manufacturer’s label and forcing your faucet’s water up your snot-clogged nose. It is this boost from the Neti Pot that allows N. fowleri to reach the brain at all.
However, if ingested, the amoebas have a “very low” chance of creeping up to your brain tissue and causing PAME, but just in case this isn’t reassuring enough (which it shouldn’t be), the CDC remains “very committed to learning more about the organism so we can prevent further infection.” Thank you for instilling us with that immensely hopeful statement, Yoder. That’s just what we needed to finally throw out the receipt for our favorite Christmas gift.