It started when a person in Kansas got sick with a rare tropical disease and died. Other people got sick in Minnesota, Texas, and Georgia. When someone in the US gets melioidosis, an illness caused by Burkholderia pseudomallei bacteria, doctors assume it came home with them on a trip to South or Southeast Asia or northern Australia. It’s a really rare disease, too—about a dozen cases turn up in the US in a year, Reuters reports. The four people who had it lived in four different states, didn’t know each other, and hadn’t traveled abroad, so the CDC had a mystery on their hands. Investigators tested soil and water, then moved on to personal care products and cleaning products. “It can survive in some types of moisture that you would not normally think of a bacteria surviving in, so even hand sanitizers," CDC epidemiologist Dr. Jennifer McQuiston told CNN.
The culprit was found in a bottle of room spray from Walmart in the home of a patient who died in Georgia in July. The CDC used DNA testing to link the bacteria found in that small glass bottle of Better Homes & Gardens Lavender & Chamomile Essential Oil Infused Aromatherapy Room Spray with Gemstones to the other cases. The spray is made in India, the Washington Post reports.
Walmart recalled the product Friday, with very particular instructions to double bag it in zip-top bags and place it in a cardboard box before returning it. The CDC has issued a warning that anyone who has used the spray and has a fever or other symptoms such as coughing or chest pain should see a doctor. The US Department of Defense recently gave the University of Hawaii $3 million to develop a vaccine for the disease, which has a 50% mortality rate and could be used in biowarfare, CBS News reports. (Read more Walmart stories.)