Dr. Charles Cobbs, a neurosurgeon in Seattle, thought the woman had a brain tumor. A CT scan had revealed a 1.5-centimeter lesion and the 69-year-old had a history of cancer. But when Cobbs operated, he discovered something much more disturbing. “It was just dead brain tissue,” he tells Live Science. He took a sample and sent it for analysis. What did they find? “There were these amoebas all over the place just eating brain cells,” Cobbs tells the Seattle Times. “We didn’t have any clue what was going on, but when we got the actual tissue, we could see it was the amoeba.” The CDC rushed a brand-new drug to doctors in an effort to save the woman, but she died from the infection. Later, the CDC determined that the infection was cause by the “brain-eating” amoeba B. mandrillaris.
The woman’s case is documented in a paper published September in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases. About a year before the woman was diagnosed with the brain infection, she had a chronic sinus infection. Her doctor recommended she use a neti pot to rinse her sinuses. Doctors believe she became infected by using filtered tap water in the neti pot. She developed a rash on her nose that wouldn’t go away and, later, had a seizure, which led to the CT scan and the discovery of a lesion on her brain. Since 1993, according to Live Science, some 200 similar cases have been diagnosed throughout the world, with about 70 in the US. Cobbs stresses that such an infection is rare, “but definitely use sterile water or saline” in a neti pot. (Read more brain-eating amoeba stories.)