March 3, 2022 – A lavender aromatherapy spray, imported from India and sold at Walmart last year, was contaminated with a deadly bacteria that led to four illnesses, including two deaths, according to a new report published in theNew England Journal of Medicine.
The product – Better Homes & Gardens Essential Oil Infused Aromatherapy Room Spray with Lavender and Chamomile Scented Gemstones – had been sold at 55 Walmart and Walmart.com stores, but has since been recalled.
The report comes after a months-long investigation by the CDC into several unrelated cases. The CDC has discovered a multi-state outbreak of melioidosis, a rare infection caused by the bacteria Burkholderia pseudomalleiwhich is commonly found in soil and water in tropical and subtropical environments in parts of South Asia and Southeast Asia.
Melioidosis is rarely diagnosed in the United States, and even then cases are usually linked to travel to tropical regions where the infection is endemic. During the investigation, the CDC discovered four non-travel-related cases in Georgia, Kansas, Minnesota and Texas that were caused by the same strain of bacteria found in the contaminated aromatherapy spray product. .
If detected early, melioidosis can be treated with an IV of certain antibiotics, but symptoms can be confused with other respiratory illnesses such as COVID-19, influenza and tuberculosis, according to NBC News. In the new CDC report, all four patients had a wide range of symptoms, including fatigue, shortness of breath, fever and nausea.
In the first case, a 5-year-old boy in Georgia visited the emergency room in July 2021 after several days of illness. He was vomiting, weak and had a sore throat, a high heart rate and a fever over 102 F. He tested positive for COVID-19 and was given steroids and remdesivir, an antiviral drug that was used to treat coronavirus.
But he did not improve and died within 4 days of hospitalization. An autopsy detected the coronavirus in his lungs and upper respiratory tract, but also found the Burkholderia pseudomallei bacteria in his lungs, liver, spleen and brain. The discovery sparked an investigation.
The family said they had not traveled outside the country, so CDC investigators took water and soil samples outside the home, which yielded no results. . Since the bacteria can be aerosolized and inhaled, investigators began testing dozens of products inside the home.
Three months later, in October, the CDC team found the bacteria in the aromatherapy spray, which helped them resolve three more cases that occurred in 2021. Each of the patients had the same bacterial strain found in the spray. .
In Texas, a 4-year-old girl had a fever over 103 F and was vomiting. Doctors thought she had a UTI and treated her with antibiotics. She was hospitalized a few days later for septic shock. She survived, but 3 months later still needed to use a wheelchair and was non-verbal, according to the CDC report.
CDC investigators later confirmed that her family had the aromatherapy spray at home. The families of the girl in Texas and the boy in Georgia said they sometimes used the spray on pillows and bedding, NBC News reported.
The other two patients were 53-year-old adults. In one case, a Minnesota man went to the hospital feeling weak and confused. He developed a fever of 104 F and severe pain in one of his hips. He was released from the hospital, but his mental state did not improve.
In the other case, a Kansas woman was hospitalized with breathing problems and weakness. She went into septic shock and died 9 days later.
In late October, the CDC issued an alert about the aromatherapy spray, and days later the Consumer Product Safety Commission issued a notice that Walmart would be recalling nearly 4,000 bottles of the product. The recall included the scent of lavender and chamomile, as well as lemon and tangerine, peppermint, lavender, lime and eucalyptus, and sandalwood and vanilla.
The products were sold by Walmart between February 2021 and October 2021 for around $4. The recall notice urged consumers to immediately stop using the product and not open the bottle. People who still have the spray should put the bottle in a resealable bag, place it in a small cardboard box, and take the product back to a Walmart store.
Consumers should also wash any bedding or linens on which the product has been sprayed, wipe down counters and surfaces that may have been exposed to the spray, and wash their hands thoroughly after handling the bottle or linens, the advisory states. reminder.
“Consumers should not pour the contents down any drain or dispose of the bottle in the trash,” the CDC said. “If the spray bottles end up in landfills, the bacteria could become established and cause future cases of melioidosis in the United States. The CDC is working with Walmart to ensure that returned bottles are disposed of properly and safely. “