Mystery of deadly US infections solved; aromatherapy spray at Walmart to blame

Extreme close-up photograph of white flecks growing in red blood.

Enlarge / Burkholderia pseudomallei grown on sheep blood agar for 24 hours. B. pseudomallei is a Gram-negative aerobic bacteria, and it’s the causative agent of melioidosis. (credit: Getty | CDC/Larry Stauffer, Oregon State Public Health Laboratory)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday confirmed that an aromatherapy gemstone spray sold at Walmart is linked to four mysterious bacterial infections in four different states. The infections left two dead, including a child.

On Friday, the CDC announced a break in the months-long mystery: a bottle of aromatherapy room spray in the home of a Georgia patient who died was contaminated with the bacterium Burkholderia pseudomallei. The dangerous microbe is typically found in soil and water in tropical and subtropical climates, such as South Asia. When the bacterium is consumed, inhaled, or enters a skin wound, it can cause a life-threatening but difficult-to-diagnose infection called melioidosis.

As soon as the CDC identified the contaminated spray, Walmart and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) announced a recall of the product—the Better Homes & Gardens Lavender & Chamomile Essential Oil Infused Aromatherapy Room Spray with Gemstones, which is manufactured in India. Walmart is offering customers a $20 gift card for the safe return of the dangerous spray bottles.

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