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Unfiltered water in neti pots can kill

12/22/2011 8:10:00 AM

Talk about a scary story: Health officials have discovered that a common home remedy for sinus problems can potentially cause fatal brain infections. 

The remedy in question involves the use of a little item called a neti pot, which is usually a small ceramic or plastic container shaped like a genie lamp. The neti pot is used to irrigate the sinuses with water or saline solution as a treatment for allergies, sinus infections and colds. Many people believe this treatment works better than over-the-counter medications such as Sudafed or Tylenol. Generally speaking, neti pots are considered simple, safe and cheap. But that's only if they're used properly. 

Epidemiologists in Louisiana have discovered that using tap water in a neti pot creates the potential for a "brain-eating amoeba," Naegleria fowleri, to infect the body. The infections are extremely rare and usually occur after people go swimming or diving in warm rivers or freshwater lakes. However, the bacteria is occasionally found in tap water. 

"If you are irrigating, flushing, or rinsing your sinuses, for example, by using a neti pot, use distilled, sterile or previously boiled water to make up the irrigation solution," said Louisiana State Epidemiologist, Dr. Raoult Ratard. "Tap water is safe for drinking, but not for irrigating your nose." It's also important to rinse the irrigation device after each use and leave open to air dry. 

Drawing this story back to its insurance implications, imagine that you convinced a friend to use your neti pot to irrigate their irritated sinuses. And imagine that you used tap water, which that day just happened to be home to some Naegleria fowleri that infected your friend and caused them major medical problems. Under the law, you could be held liable for the injury to your friend.

Fortunately, this scenario is so rare that we have never seen a lawsuit filed over neti pot negligence, but this is the kind of liability that homeowner's insurance can help protect you against. Just because it hasn't happened doesn't mean it couldn't happen, and that's what homeowner's insurance is all about: being prepared for the worst. 

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