by Jennifer Wemhoff, The Groundwater Foundation
It's been a rough cold and flu season thus far. The 2012-13 season began relatively early, and according to the CDC, by January 2013 flu activity was high across most of the U.S.
Over-the-counter medications are available to help ease some of the symptoms of colds and flu, but often those wanting a drug-free solution to sinus congestion reach for a neti pot. A neti pot, described by WebMD, looks like "a cross between a small teapot and Aladdin's magic lamp." It is used to irrigate nasal passages to help ease sinus congestion and pressure. I have used one to deal with colds in the past, and it made a world of difference.
Like many others, I used water right out of the tap in my neti pot. After reading an article in the October issue of WC&P Magazine and information on the CDC website, that's not a recommended practice. While extremely rare, there is a risk of infection from Naegleria fowleri, a dangerous waterborne ameba commonly found in warm freshwater, in neti pot use with tap water. According to the WC&P article, conventional water treatment is effective against the ameba, but "treated tap water and associated storage containers are not sterile. Under the right conditions, ameba and bacteria begin to regrow and can quickly reach high levels of contamination." Naegleria fowleri is not harmful when ingested, but can be fatal when forced into nasal passages where it has easy access to brain tissue.
To reiterate, the risk of infection from Naegleria fowleri in a neti pot using tap water is very, very rare, so if you've used a neti pot with tap water, don't panic! The threat, however, does help highlight best practices in using a neti pot this cold and flu season. The CDC recommends using water that has been:
- boiled for one minute (or at elevations of above 6,500 feet, boiled for three minutes) and cooled, OR
- filtered, using a filter with an absolute pore size of 1 micron or smaller, OR
- purchased with a label specifying that it contains distilled or sterile water.
The neti pot itself should be rinsed with the water described above and left open to air dry completely.
I for one will start using distilled water in my neti pot, and hope for a swift end to this cold and flu season, for all of our sakes!