"When I operated on this lady, a section of her brain about the size of a golf ball was bloody mush", Dr. Charles Cobbs, neurosurgeon at Swedish told The Seattle Times.
But after performing brain surgery and taking a tissue sample, they realized she actually had a rare amoeba called Balamuthia mandrillaris.
According to the CDC, most cases of Balamuthia mandrillaris aren't diagnosed until immediately before death or after death, so doctors don't have a lot of experience treating the amoeba and know little about how a person becomes infected.
"If you do use a neti pot, for instance, you should be very aware that it has to be absolute sterile water or sterile saline", said Dr. Cobb.
The amoeba causes a "very rare disease that is usually fatal" called granulomatous amoebic encephalitis (GAE).
"We didn't have any clue what was going on", he added.
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A year on, the woman started to develop some unusual symptoms, such as a odd red rash around the outside of her nasal passage.
Once in her body, the amoeba slowly went about its deadly work. According to the CDC, the amoeba was discovered in 1986 and officially declared a new species in 1993. The fatality rate is almost 100 percent.
Researchers found that the single-celled organisms likely infected the woman's brain through her nasal cavity by way of a neti pot, a teapot shaped product used to rinse out the sinuses, about a year earlier. "But in your nose, these organisms can stay alive in nasal passages and cause potentially serious infections", according to U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
"It's such an incredibly uncommon disease it was not on anyone's radar that this initial nose sore would be related to her brain", Keenan Piper, a Swedish Medical Center employee and co-author of the study, told the newspaper. Not suspecting anything particularly unusual, her doctors diagnosed it as a rosacea, a common skin condition, with treatments lasting for about a year. She entered surgery the next day. "Repeat CT imaging demonstrated further hemorrhage into the original resection cavity". Within a week, she was in a coma, and her family made a decision to take her off life support. An official urged users to fill the pots only with distilled, sterile or previously boiled water, and to rinse and dry them after each use.
The patient died about a month after finally receiving the correct diagnosis. Since then, more than 200 cases have been diagnosed worldwide, with at least 70 cases in the US, the CDC says.