Four cases of a serious, sometimes fatal infection called melioidosis that have bedeviled public health investigators for months appear to have been linked to an aromatherapy room spray sold at Walmart, a product recall notice issued by the Consumer Product Safety Commission revealed Friday.
The product, Better Homes and Gardens Lavender and Chamomile Essential Oil Infused Aromatherapy Room Spray with Gemstones, was sold at 55 Walmart locations and on the company’s website from February to Oct. 21.
A statement from the Centers from Disease Control and Prevention instructs people to stop using it immediately but not to throw the product away. It says people who have the product should double bag it in clear plastic bags, place it in a small box, and return it to Walmart, which has issued a recall.
The CDC statement also suggests that people who have used the product in the past 21 days who have symptoms consistent with melioidosis should seek medical care and tell the attending doctor about the aromatherapy spray exposure. People who have no symptoms but have used the spray in the past seven days should also see a doctor, who may prescribe antibiotics to prevent infection, the CDC said.
Testing of a bottle found in the home of an individual from Georgia who died from the infection showed it was contaminated with Burkholderia pseudomallei, the bacterium that causes melioidosis, a statement posted on the commission’s website said.
The CDC has been investigating the four cases for months, trying to determine the source of the infections. Two of the four people infected have died, one of whom was a child. The first case was reported in Kansas in March. Cases in Minnesota and Texas followed in May. The contaminated bottle was found in the home of the most recent case in this outbreak, which was reported from Georgia in late July.
“Though the source of these four infections has not been confirmed by CDC, the bottle with the same type of bacteria was found in the home of one of the melioidosis decedents,” the commission’s statement said.
The discovery was the result of months of efforts to root out how the people had been exposed to Burkholderia pseudomallei, a bacterium that is not found in the continental United States. (It does occur in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.)
About a dozen cases of melioidosis are discovered in this country in any given year; they are almost always seen in people who have returned from traveling in Southeast Asia or northern Australia, where the bacteria are found in soil and water. People contract melioidosis by exposure to the bacteria via cuts in the skin or by consuming food or water contaminated with the bacteria.
Public health investigators studied more than 100 samples taken from in and around the homes of the four people confirmed to have the illness. The genetic sequences of the bacteria recovered from the four suggested the cases were linked, but the investigators could find no connection between the four — adults and children, males and females — scattered across the United States.
The CDC said the recall involves about 3,900 bottles and includes five other scents of the aromatherapy product, which was made in India: lemon and mandarin, lavender, peppermint, lime and eucalyptus, and sandalwood and vanilla. Agency officials advised that any sheets or linens sprayed with the product should be washed and dried in a hot dryer, with bleach if desired. Surfaces the product might have been sprayed on should be cleaned with an undiluted disinfectant. People should wash their hands thoroughly after performing these tasks.
Melioidosis has an estimated fatality rate of between 10% and 50%. People with some health conditions are at greater risk of severe if they contract the illness; those health conditions include diabetes, alcoholism, kidney disease, and chronic lung disease.
Symptoms of the disease can vary depending on the type and site of infection. There are four types of infection: localized, in the lungs, bloodstream infection, or disseminated infection, in which a localized infection spreads to another part of the body. Treatment depends on the type of infection, but consists of oral or intravenous antibiotics.
Melioidosis symptoms may include localized pain or swelling, fever or high fever, skin ulcers or abscesses, cough, chest pain, headache, anorexia, respiratory distress, abdominal discomfort, joint pain, disorientation, weight loss, stomach or chest pain, muscle or joint pain, and seizures, the CDC website states.
This story has been updated with additional information from the CDC.