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Mystery Deadly Tropical Disease Outbreak In US Linked To Walmart Aromatherapy Spray

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Tom Hale

Senior Journalist

clockOct 25 2021, 17:47 UTC

Burkholderia pseudomallei bacteria is a rare and unusual pathogen typically found in tropical and sub-tropical countries. Image credit: CDC/Dr Todd Parker/Audra Marsh

A mysterious outbreak of a tropical disease typically found in Southeast Asia recently broke out in the US and left health officials stumped. After some snooping around, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has now revealed that the outbreak may be linked to a rare bacteria found in an aromatherapy room spray sold in Walmart, which has now been recalled.

The CDC reported that three people in three states — Texas, Kansas, and Minnesota — had fallen ill with melioidosis in late July 2021. A fourth case was later reported in Georgia. Two of the four patients died. 

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Symptoms of the disease are relatively vague, non-specific, and can vary depending on the part of the body infected. Infection in the lungs can cause a cough, chest pain, a high fever, and headache. In a bloodstream infection, the symptoms are similar but often include joint pain and disorientation.

The outbreak was unusual since the bacteria responsible for the disease, Burkholderia pseudomallei, is typically found in tropical and sub-tropical areas, namely parts of Asia and northern Australia, as well as South and Central America. It is also rare for the disease to be transmitted from person to person and none of the patients had recently left the country.

To understand the source of the infection, researchers from the CDC took samples from the patients and their homes. Unexpectedly, a sample taken from the aromatherapy spray sold at Walmart tested positive for the rare Bpseudomallei bacteria.

The spray in question is the “Lavender & Chamomile Essential Oil Infused Aromatherapy Room Spray with Gemstones” made by Better Homes & Gardens. The aromatherapy spray was manufactured in India, which could explain how the pathogen was introduced to the US. Furthermore, the genetic fingerprint of the bacteria that sickened the four patients is similar to that of strains of the bacteria often found in South Asia. The CDC is still investigating the source of the other three infections, but it is especially interested to see whether these three patients may have also used this or similar products. 

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According to the US Consumer Safety Products Consmissions, all 3,900 bottles of the Better Homes & Gardens spray have been recalled from Walmart and customers who bought the product will receive a $20 gift card. The aromatherapy room spray was sold at about 55 Walmart stores nationwide and online from February 2021 until October 2021 for about $4. The recalled sprays come in the following scents: Lavender & Chamomile, Lemon and Mandarin, Lavender, Peppermint, Lime & Eucalyptus, Sandalwood, and Vanilla.

The CDC has told people who have this aromatherapy spray in their homes to stop using it immediately. It has also issued instructions on how to dispose of it. It should not go in the regular trash. Instead, you should double-bag the bottle in clear zip-top bags and place it in a small cardboard box. The box should then be returned to a Walmart store. It’s also advisable to clean any surfaces that came into contact with the spray with an undiluted disinfectant cleaner and wash any fabrics, drying them completely in a hot dryer. 

Last but not least, if you have used the product within the past 21 days and start to experience any unusual symptoms, then seek medical attention and tell your doctor you were exposed to the spray, the CDC advises. 


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