The Louisiana Department of Health & Hospitals recently issued a warning about the potential dangers of improper neti pot use, following the death of two local residents from so-called brain-eating amoeba.

A 51-year-old DeSoto Parish woman died recently after using tap water in a neti pot to irrigate her sinuses and becoming infected with the deadly ameba, the DHH warned in a statement. In June, a 20-year-old St. Bernard Parish man died under the same circumstances. Naegleria fowleri infects people by entering the body through the nose.

Neti pots are used to clear out the sinuses and look like a genie's lamp. However, the pots can be dangerous if they are not properly cleaned or if the water used is not first distilled. The two victims are believed to have used tap water in their neti pots instead of distilled or sterilized 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. 

Jonathan Yoder, an epidemiologist for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told LiveScience that the cases are being investigated to confirm that the deaths resulted from tap water and not from untreated water from a pond or lake. If that is found to be the case, he claimed it would be the first example of the naegleria fowleri organisms surviving the tap water treatment process.

The naegleria fowleri infection is known to occur when people swim or dive in freshwater lakes and rivers. Normally the bacteria need to be pushed up the nasal cavity. The brain-eating amoeba may enter the nose of people who submerge theirs heads in freshwater or who irrigate their sinuses with neti pots using tap water. The infection cannot occur by drinking tap water or freshwater.

The bacteria causes a brain infection, known as primary amebic meningoencephalities (PAM), that destroys brain tissue. The initials symptoms are similar to those of bacterial meningitis. After the start of the symptoms, the victim usually dies within one to 12 days.

However, infections from naegleria fowleri are very rare. Only 32 infections were reported in the U.S. from 2001 to 2010.