Rare bacteria that killed Georgian found in aromatherapy spray sold at Walmart

ATLANTA — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it now knows what caused a small outbreak of a rare disease usually found in South Asia.

At least four people in different states, including Georgia, came down with melioidosis. Two people died from the bacteria, including the person from Georgia.

What stumped medical experts, was that none of the people had traveled out of the country recently.

The CDC said Friday it has now tracked the cause of the disease to “Better Homes & Gardens Lavender & Chamomile Essential Oil Infused Aromatherapy Room Spray with Gemstones.”

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The spray was made in India and sold “at about 55 Walmart stores and on Walmart’s website between February and October 21, 2021, when Walmart pulled remaining bottles of this spray and related products from store shelves and its website. The Consumer Product Safety Commission and Walmart are issuing a recall for the lavender and chamomile room spray and five other scents in the same product line. Investigation continues into whether other related scents and brands may pose a risk,” the CDC said in a news release.

We’ll have the latest on this developing story RIGHT NOW on Channel 2 Action News.

The CDC said a sample of the spray from the Georgia case tested positive this week for melioidosis.

“The CDC is coordinating with state health departments in Kansas, Minnesota, and Texas to try to determine whether the other three patients may have also used this or similar products,” the CDC said.

The bacteria normally lives in moist soil and water. However, in rare cases, it has also been found to contaminate wet or moist products in the areas where the bacteria are common.

The CDC says if you have the spray in your home:

  • Stop using this product immediately. Do not open the bottle. Do not throw away or dispose of the bottle in the regular trash.
  • Double bag the bottle in clean, clear zip-top bags and place in a small cardboard box. Return the bagged and boxed product to a Walmart store.
  • Wash sheets or linens that the product may have been sprayed on using normal laundry detergent and dry completely in a hot dryer; bleach can be used if desired.
  • Wipe down counters and surfaces that might have the spray on them with undiluted Pine-Sol or similar disinfectant.
  • Limit how much you handle the spray bottle and wash hands thoroughly after touching the bottle or linens. If you used gloves, wash hands afterward.
  • If you have used the product within the past 21 days and have fever or other melioidosis symptoms, seek medical care and tell your doctor you were exposed to the spray. If you do not have symptoms but were exposed to the product in the last 7 days, your doctor may recommend that you get antibiotics (post-exposure prophylaxis) to prevent infection.

“Our hearts go out to the families that have been impacted by this situation,” said Inger Damon, MD, MPH, director of CDC’s Division of High-Consequence Pathogens and Pathology, which manages melioidosis. “We at CDC have been very concerned to see these serious related illness spread across time and geography. That is why our scientists have continued to work tirelessly to try to find the potential source for the melioidosis infections in these patients. We hope this work can help protect other people who may have used this spray.”

Signs and Symptoms

There are several types of melioidosis infection, each with its own set of symptoms.

However, it is important to note that melioidosis has a wide range of signs and symptoms that can be mistaken for other diseases such as tuberculosis or more common forms of pneumonia.

Localized Infection:

  • Localized pain or swelling
  • Fever
  • Ulceration
  • Abscess

Pulmonary Infection:

  • Cough
  • Chest pain
  • High fever
  • Headache
  • Anorexia

Bloodstream Infection:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Respiratory distress
  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Joint pain
  • Disorientation

Disseminated Infection:

  • Fever
  • Weight loss
  • Stomach or chest pain
  • Muscle or joint pain
  • Headache
  • Central nervous system/brain infection
  • Seizures

The time between exposure to the bacteria that causes the disease and the emergence of symptoms is not clearly defined but may range from one day to many years; generally, symptoms appear two to four weeks after exposure.

Although healthy people may get melioidosis, underlying medical conditions may increase the risk of diseases. The major risk factors are:

  • Diabetes
  • Liver disease
  • Renal disease
  • Thalassemia
  • Cancer or another immune-suppressing condition not related to HIV
  • Chronic lung disease (such as cystic fibrosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and bronchiectasis)

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