Genetic fingerprinting has linked all cases of a rare tropical disease called melioidosis that affected four people in Georgia, Texas, Minnesota and Kansas and killed two of them to an aromatherapy spray sold at Walmart, the US Centers for Disease Control Prevention said Tuesday.
The agency asked people who might find bottles of BHG Lavender & Chamomile Aromatherapy Spray with Gemstones or other scents in the same product line purchased from Walmart not to throw them away or pour their contents down the drain.
“The bacteria that cause melioidosis does not normally live in soil and water in the United States. If the spray bottles end up in landfills, the bacteria could become established and cause future melioidosis cases in the U.S.,” the CDC said in a statement.
Instead, consumers should return them for a refund and gift card.
“Double bag the bottle in clean, clear zip-top bags and place in a small cardboard box. Return the bagged and boxed product to a Walmart store,” the CDC adds in online instructions.
“Wash sheets or linens that the product may have been sprayed on using normal laundry detergent and dry completely in a hot dryer; bleach can be used if desired.”
It took months of intense investigation to find the source of the contamination, the CDC said.
“When you think about the thousands of things people come in contact with around their homes, it’s remarkable we were able to identify the source and confirm it in the lab,” said Dr. Inger Damon, director of CDC’s Division of High-Consequence Pathogens and Pathology. “CDC scientists and our partners found the proverbial needle in the haystack.”
Now the agency is trying to find out how the Burkholderia pseudomallei bacteria that causes the infection got into the spray.
“With the Consumer Product Safety Commission and Walmart, CDC has contacted the manufacturer in India to determine whether ingredients from the implicated spray were used in any other products. CDC scientists are working to assess the extent of contamination in other bottles and whether other scents may also be contaminated,” the CDC said.
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“Since Friday, CDC testing of an additional bottle of the spray has tested positive for the bacteria.”
The spray was sold at 55 Walmart stores and on the company’s website between February and October 21, the CDC says.