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Deadly bacteria found in aromatherapy spray sold at Walmart

Walmart is recalling nearly 4,000 bottles from a line of aromatherapy spray products linked with a bacterial disease outbreak. A bottle of "Better Homes & Gardens Lavender & Chamomile Essential Oil Infused Aromatherapy Room Spray with Gemstones" tested positive for B. pseudomallei, a rare and sometimes deadly bacteria that causes melioidosis.
Walmart is recalling nearly 4,000 bottles from a line of aromatherapy spray products linked with a bacterial disease outbreak. A bottle of "Better Homes & Gardens Lavender & Chamomile Essential Oil Infused Aromatherapy Room Spray with Gemstones" tested positive for B. pseudomallei, a rare and sometimes deadly bacteria that causes melioidosis. (Image credit: U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission)

A rare and sometimes deadly bacteria has been found in an aromatherapy spray product sold at Walmart, according to U.S. health officials. The product is linked with a mysterious outbreak of the bacterial disease melioidosis, which sickened four people in the U.S. this year.

The melioidosis outbreak, which was announced in August, has puzzled researchers because the bacteria that cause this disease, called Burkholderia pseudomallei, grow in tropical climates and are most commonly seen in Southeast Asia and northern Australia. Yet none of the four U.S. residents who got sick with melioidosis had traveled outside of the country, Live Science previously reported. Two of the four U.S. patients died from the disease.

Officials searched the homes of the four patients, looking for imported products that may have been the source of the infection. And they've found a likely suspect: The aromatherapy spray product, called "Better Homes & Gardens Lavender & Chamomile Essential Oil Infused Aromatherapy Room Spray with Gemstones," was found in the home of one of the ill melioidosis patients, and the product tested positive for B. pseudomallei, according to a statement from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Officials are now conducting tests to determine if the genetic fingerprint of the bacteria found in the aromatherapy spray bottle is the same as the one that sickened the four patients, which would firmly link the product to the outbreak. Officials are also working to determine whether the other three melioidosis patients may have also used this product or similar products, the CDC statement said. 

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The aromatherapy product was sold at 55 Walmart stores and on Walmart's website between February and October 2021, the CDC statement said. Walmart is now recalling nearly 4,000 bottles from this line of aromatherapy spray products, in six different scents. The full list of recalled products and their product numbers can be found on the recall notice, issued by the Consumer Product Safety Commission and Walmart.

The recalled products, which were made in India, were sold in 5-ounce glass bottles and have "Better Homes and Gardens Aromatherapy" printed on the label, according to the recall notice. 

People who purchased the recalled products should follow detailed instructions from the CDC on how to handle and return the products. They should stop using the product immediately; but they should not simply throw the bottle away, according to the CDC statement. Instead, they should double bag the bottle in clear zip-top bags, place the bags in a small cardboard box and return the product to a Walmart store, the statement said.

They should also wash any sheets or linens that may have been exposed to the spray, and dry them in a hot dryer; and wipe down surfaces that were exposed to the spray with undiluted disinfectant cleaner. People should limit how much they handle these products and wash their hands thoroughly after touching them, the statement said.

Melioidosis can cause a wide range of symptoms. In the current cases — which occured in Georgia, Kansas, Texas and Minnesota — symptoms ranged from cough and shortness of breath to weakness, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, intermittent fever, and rash on the trunk, abdomen and face, Live Science previously reported.

People who have used the product within the past 21 days and have symptoms of melioidosis should seek medical care and tell their doctor that they were exposed to the recalled spray, the CDC said. Doctors may also recommend that people who used the product but don't have symptoms take antibiotics to prevent infection, the statement said.

Originally published on Live Science.  

Rachael Rettner

Rachael has been with Live Science since 2010. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.