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Deadly bacteria found in aromatherapy product sold at Walmart

The spray, sold under the Better Homes & Gardens brand, may be linked to four cases of a rare bacterial illness. Two people have died.

An aromatherapy room spray sold at Walmart may be linked to four cases of a highly uncommon bacterial infection that's rarely seen in the United States.

The cases, diagnosed this year, were identified in Georgia, Kansas, Minnesota and Texas. Two of the people, including a child, have died.

On Friday, the Consumer Product Safety Commission announced that Walmart, which sold the product, “Better Homes & Gardens Lavender & Chamomile Essential Oil Infused Aromatherapy Room Spray with Gemstone,” is recalling nearly 4,000 bottles.

Better Homes and Gardens Essential Oil Infused Aromatherapy Room Spray with Gemstones.CPSC

That product, discovered in the home in one of the four patients, was found to be contaminated with potentially deadly bacteria called Burkholderia pseudomallei.

Federal health officials are now testing products found in the homes of the other three patients.

Patty Davis, a CPSC spokesperson, said the agency is extremely concerned about the potential for further, potentially dangerous, bacterial exposure.

"CPSC immediately reached out to Walmart to work with the company to get this product out of consumers hands," Davis said. "We want to prevent anyone else from being sickened or from dying."

Burkholderia pseudomallei bacteria are usually never found in household products, at least in the U.S.

Such bacteria are most commonly found in contaminated water or soil in southeast Asia or northern Australia. On average, about a dozen cases tend to be diagnosed in the U.S. each year, usually among people who had traveled overseas.

But four cases in a matter of months in 2021, particularly those who never traveled outside of the country, caught the attention of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

When investigators took water and soil samples from each of the patients’ homes, they turned up nothing.

That’s when the team refocused the search for the source to imported products used inside the home, eventually identifying the bacteria in the aromatherapy spray in the Georgia patient's home on October 6.

The CDC investigators established that the other patients also owned the aromatherapy spray, and now the agency is testing those products to see if the genetic fingerprint of the bacteria matches.

The bacteria were found in the lavender and chamomile version of the spray, but the CPSC and Walmart are also recalling five other scents in the same product line. The product was sold at about 55 Walmart stores and on Walmart's website, according to the CPSC.

A spokesperson from Walmart emailed a statement that said the company is "deeply concerned" about the potential connection between its products and the bacterial infections.

"We took immediate action after federal agencies alerted us Wednesday of concerns with an aromatherapy room spray manufactured by Flora Classique Inc. and sold under the Better Homes & Gardens brand," the statement read, adding that Walmart had pulled the product from store shelves.

Authorities are urging people who have the products to return them to Walmart without opening the packages or touching them otherwise.

"Because Burkholderia pseudomallei can be aerosolized and therefore breathed in, the CDC classifies the bacteria as a potential biohazard," said Dr. Jill Weatherhead, an assistant professor of tropical medicine and infectious diseases at the Baylor College of Medicine. Weatherhead is not involved with the CDC investigation.

While melioidosis is treatable with antibiotics, early detection may be difficult. It is incredibly rare in the U.S. and may be mistaken for other respiratory illnesses, such as the flu or even tuberculosis, Weatherhead said. Symptoms usually include cough, fever and chest pain.

“Our hearts go out to the families that have been impacted by this situation,” Dr. Inger Damon, director of CDC’s Division of High-Consequence Pathogens and Pathology, said in a statement Friday.

“Our scientists have continued to work tirelessly to try to find the potential source for the melioidosis infections in these patients. We hope this work can help protect other people who may have used this spray,” Damon said. "We hope this work can help protect other people who may have used this spray."

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