April 7, 2023 at 7:11 pm

Washing Your Sinuses With Tap Water Could Be Fatal. Here’s How To Make It Safe.

by Trisha Leigh

I feel like stories about brain-eating amoebas and people who love their sinus washes crossing paths – and things going horribly awry – are becoming almost commonplace.

Recently we’ve gotten wind of another poor soul who only wanted to be able to breathe freely through his nose, but ended up hosting a nasty who feasted on his brain instead.

The man, who hailed from southwest Florida, was determined to have died of Naegleria fowleri, a single-celled amoeba that lives in warm, fresh water. On the rare and off-chance it finds its way into your brain, it can result in an infection known as primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM).

iStock 1033813526 Washing Your Sinuses With Tap Water Could Be Fatal. Heres How To Make It Safe.

Image Credit: iStock

This condition is almost always fatal, and the Florida Department of Health in Charlotte County commented on the case.

They say they’re “continuing to coordinate on this ongoing investigation, implement protective measures, and take any necessary corrective actions.”

Like we said up top, this kind of thing is more common than you might think. The CDC has catalogued 157 infections between 1962 and 2022, with only 4 known survivors.

That said, this latest case is the only one ever recorded in a cooler month. Most are reported in Southern states when people are swimming in natural bodies of water in the summer, but as we’ve seen, using tap water to rinse one’s sinuses can have the same result.

The first symptoms of PAM, which typically arise before 5 days have passed, are headache, fever, nausea and vomiting. Later, a person experiences a stiff neck, confusion, seizures, hallucinations, and coma.

Death usually occurs within 5 days, as well, which means it’s a rapidly progressing disease.

Health officials reiterate that the amoeba does not spread through water vapor, aerosol droplets, person-to-person transmission, or drinking water.

“Infection with Naegleria fowleri is RARE and can only happen when water contaminated with amoebae enters the body through the nose. You CANNOT be infected by drinking tap water.”

Still, if this totally wigs you out and you want to reduce your risks, there are some things you can do.

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Image Credit: iStock

First, the FDA says if you are going to use a sinus wash, you need to make sure you use them and clean your devices properly.

Do not rinse with tap water unless you’ve boiled it for 3-5 minutes and let it cool to lukewarm. Instead, opt for distilled or sterile water, or install a special NSF 53 or NSF 58 filter to get rid of microorganisms.

Also, make sure your hands are clean and dry ahead of time, wash your device with warm water and soap when you’re done, and ideally let it air dry before using it again.

There are also risks associated with swimming in warm fresh water.

“The only sure way to prevent an infection is to avoid water-related activities in warm fresh water, especially during summer months. If you are going swimming, try to prevent water from going up your nose.”

Avoid jumping or diving into bodies of warm fresh water, don’t put your head underwater in hot springs, and try not to stir up sediment in shallow waters, where the amoeba are more likely to live.

If you live in a warm or tropical location, you should also try to avoid getting water into your nose while bathing or washing you face.

Those with kids who use plastic or inflatable pools should take care to scrub and properly dry them after use, too, and to always use chlorine in your outdoor pools.

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Image Credit: iStock

They actually hate all sorts of outdoor summer water fun, warning that even things like hoses, sprinklers, and slip-n-slides could result in water – and amoeba – going straight up someone’s nose.

You’ll have to take your risk factors, your location, and your level of anxiety into consideration when making calls on some of these things.

Because summer isn’t summer without a little water fun…but dying from a brain-eating amoeba isn’t exactly idea, either.

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