Last week, Louisiana's Department of Health and Hospitals issued a warning to residents: Don't use tap water to rinse your nasal passages.
The warning came after a 51-year-old woman in the state died after she was infected with the "brain-eating" amoeba Naegleria fowleri, which enters the body through the nose and sometimes causes devastating meningitis. Apparently, the amoeba lurked in tap water the woman used in her neti pot, a pitcher-like device used to rinse nasal passages.
"Tap water is safe for drinking, but not for irrigating your nose," Louisiana's state epidemiologist, Dr. Raoult Ratard, said in a statement. He urged those who want to rinse their sinuses to use distilled, sterile or previously boiled water, and to rinse their neti pot (or other irrigation device) after each use and allow it to air dry.
If you're anything like me and have always used tap water to rinse your sinuses, the warning is a bit scary. Naegleria fowleri infection is very rare -- only 32 people in the U.S. were affected between 2000 and 2010, the Louisiana warning noted -- but it's also very deadly, causing the destruction of brain tissue and usually death within a couple of weeks. (Earlier this year, Booster Shots reported on a young woman in Florida who contracted the amoeba infection after swimming in a river.)