Melioidosis from Essential Oils?!? Yes, it recently happened here in the US.
Essential Oil Infused Aromatherapy Room Spray with Gemstones sounds appealing. It sounds like something a lot of people would purchase for their home, but it has recently killed two people in the US, one being a child.
In total, the CDC investigated four cases of melioidosis in four states, Kansas, Minnesota, Texas and Georgia.
What is Melioidosis?
Melioidosis is caused by the gram-negative bacteria
, Burkholderia pseudomalei
The bacteria is found in soil and surface groundwater in tropical regions. Upon exposure, it can infect both humans and animals. People can get infected through their skin, by ingesting it, or by inhaling it. In 85% of cases, symptoms usually occur within 9-21 days of exposure. A more severe version of the disease can happen immediately after a person ingests contaminated fresh water. Those affected usually present with sepsis, a life-threatening infection that affects multiple organs, and usually half present with pneumonia. You may also see a localized abscess. A small portion of infections can last longer than 2 months. While anyone can get infected, 50% of global cases have an underlying risk factor of Diabetes mellitus. The case fatality rate ( # of deaths out of diagnosed cases) ranges from 10-50%, so it’s not low. Cases are most common in India, Bangladesh, Inonesia and Australia. It is not transmitted from person-to-person, which is a good thing, and treatment entails antibiotics and supportive care.
How did the CDC link back the 4 infections to the Essential Oil?
The CDC started an outbreak investigation after getting reports of confirmed cases of Melioidosis. An outbreak investigation is where trained epidemiological investigators essentially act like detectives: they interviews patients, close contacts to the patients, makes a timeline of symptom presentations, document the patient’s activities, where he/she went, what he/she ate, etc., then they compare stories with others who are infected and try to identify a common source of exposure for the cases. Investigators took samples from a bottle of Better Homes and Gardens Essential Oil Infused Aromatherapy Room Spray with Gemstones Lavender & Chamomile scent from the home of the case in Georgia. The sample tested positive for Burkholderia pseudomalei and matched the genetic sequence of the bacteria in the 4 cases. The conclusion? Melioidosis from Essential Oils.
What Happened Next?
Better Homes and Gardens Essential Oil Infused Aromatherapy Room Spray with Gemstones was sold by Walmart from Feb’21 to Oct’21. Each bottle sold for 4$. The product was found in 55 of its physical stores and sold online. Walmart recalled 3,900 bottles of it in 6 different scents. The product was made in India, a country that regularly sees cases of melioidosis, and Walmart has stopped sale of the product.
What Should You Do if You Have It?
First, stop using it. Inform anyone else who might be using it to stop using it. CDC recommends that you don’t throw it away. Instead, put the bottle in 2 clear bags, then a cardboard box, and return it to any Walmart store. Also wipe down and clean anything on which you used the oils, including counters, furniture, sheets, etc.
Broader Take-Home Point:
Melioidosis from Essential Oils is rare. People in the world of wellness love essential oils. I’m one of them! I use essential oils daily. This outbreak investigation and subsequent recall is a great reminder to do your homework when it comes to purchasing essential oils. While anything can happen, always go through a trusted, reputable company and don’t skimp on the cost. Maybe one day we can regulate products like these to assure greater quality control, but that day hasn’t come yet. And to be fair, many of our OTC drugs and prescribed medications are made in different countries to cut cost. As a result, it’s more difficult to control quality.
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Medical Trivia: The Tylenol Murders