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Louisiana’s Department of Health is warning that neti pots may be tied to brain-eating amoeba deaths.

The department said two people have died in the state after using the potentially dangerous medical devices. Neti pots are gaining popularity as a treatment for the common cold and hay fever. Users fill the pot with water and then use it to force the water through their nose and flush out their sinus cavities.

The manufacturer recommends using distilled or sterilized water in the pots. The Louisiana Department of Health believes the two people who died used tap water in the potentially dangerous product and allowed Naegleria fowleri, a deadly amoeba, into their sinuses.

The amoeba then worked its way into their brains and infected them with primary amoebic meningoencephalitis, a deadly neurological disease. The disease destroys brain tissue and generally is fatal within a few days.

A spokesman for the United States Center of Disease Control and Prevention said the CDC is investigating the deaths to be certain neti pots are the source of the infection.

N. fowleri lives in lakes and ponds, especially in southern parts of the United States. The brain-eating amoeba kills several Americans each year after they inhale water while swimming in ponds or lakes. The amoeba seems only to be deadly when it is forced deep into a person’s nasal passages.

The CDC spokesman said the two people who died may be the first cases where people have been exposed to the deadly amoeba through treated drinking water. Drinking water is purified and treated with chlorine to kill microorganisms, including N. fowleri, he said. However, the process does not eliminate 100 percent of microorganisms, which is why the manufacturer recommends using distilled or boiled water in neti pots. He goes on to say that while, “drinking water is safe, it’s not sterile.”

Source: Live Science, “Brain-Eating Amoeba Fatalities Linked to Common Cold Remedy,” Natalie Wolchover, Dec. 16, 2011.