A 53-year-old woman and 20-year-old man both died after using contaminated tap water in their neti pots. The water contained Naegleria fowleri, one-celled organisms that can occur in freshwater, lakes, ponds and streams and under-chlorinated pools, among other sites. The amoebas can make their way up the nasal passages to the brain, where they “eat” tissue and cause death within 1 to 12 days.
Neti pots, usually small ceramic vessels with narrow spouts, are typically filled with warm water and a bit of salt; users place the spout in one nostril at a time and pour the solution in, allowing it to drip out the other nostril. The process helps clear mucus from the back of the nose and the sinuses, but experts have noted that overuse can actually promote infection, as the mucus lining those passages helps protect against potentially harmful pathogens.
I’ve used a neti pot for years (and given one to my mom, whose sinus configuration I inherited) without giving it much thought. But now it occurs to me that paying better attention to what one pours into one’s nose makes sense.
Experts recommend that neti-pot users avoid using water straight from the tap; sterile, distilled or boiled (and cooled) water are safer bets.