Neti pots, nasal-rinsing devices linked to potentially deadly amoeba

Using tap water for neti pots and other nasal-rinsing devices was linked to a potentially dangerous amoeba in a new study published by researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The research, published on Tuesday, tied a type of amoeba known as acanthamoeba with the use of such nasal-rinsing devices. 

Acanthamoeba infections are rare, affecting only an estimated three to 12 people annually in the U.S. However, 82% of cases are fatal, the researchers said.  

Here’s what to know:

What are neti pots?

Neti pots are one of the better known nasal-rinsing devices. They look like small teapots with long spouts, and usually are made of ceramic or plastic.

Users fill them with a saline solution, then pour the liquid in one nostril. It comes out the other, draining the nasal passage of allergens and other bothersome contaminants and helping the user to breathe easier.

Neti pot use in the U.S. has boomed in the last couple of decades, driven in part by the increasing prevalence of allergies and other respiratory diseases, market researchers say.

The products are safe when used properly, such as with saline or saltwater. However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has long warned that improper use of these neti pots and other nasal irrigation devices — such as using tap water — can increase the risk of infection.

Untreated tap water in neti pots linked to amoeba

The CDC's study focused on 10 patients who were infected between 1994 and 2022, and nine of those cases occurred in the past decade. 

All 10 patients had at least one immunocompromising condition – most commonly cancer – and many of the patients had been nasal rinsing for either months or years, the researchers said. 

Three of the patients died, according to the CDC. The agency noted that the number of patients who survived "is unexpectedly high considering the typical fatality rate for Acanthamoeba infection." 

The researchers noted that while nasal rinsing may have led to the infections, it was not "definitively determined to be the route of transmission for any case." 

Health officials previously tied deaths from a brain-eating amoeba, Naegleria fowleri, to nasal rinsing.

How to safely use a nasal rinse

FILE - A neti pot used for nasal irrigation. (Photo by Tom Sumlin/Charlotte Observer/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

FILE - A neti pot used for nasal irrigation. (Photo by Tom Sumlin/Charlotte Observer/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

There are ways for people to protect themselves from infections when performing nasal rinsing, the CDC's Dr. Julia Haston told FOX Business. The most important thing is to use safe water.

"This means using water that has been boiled and then cooled before use, or buying distilled or sterile water," Haston said. "Do not use tap water straight from the faucet to perform nasal rinsing." 

If consumers use tap water, it needs to be boiled for at least one minute and cooled before use, the CDC said. 

Tap water isn't safe to use because it isn't adequately filtered or treated, according to the FDA’s website

Additionally, some tap water contains low levels of organisms, such as bacteria and protozoa, including amoebas. Those organisms "may be safe to swallow because stomach acid kills them. But in your nose, these organisms can stay alive in nasal passages" and cause serious and potentially fatal infections. 

The CDC also offers a 24/7 free-living ameba consultation service where health care providers can call for a consultation for any confirmed or suspected acanthamoeba infections.

FOX Business and the Associated Press contributed to this report. It was reported from Cincinnati.