A lavender and chamomile-scented aromatherapy spray contaminated with deadly bacteria that killed two people in 2021 also killed one of the victim's pet raccoon, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday.
In October 2021, investigators with the CDC discovered the bacteria Burkholderia pseudomallei in the lavender and chamomile scent of Better Homes & Gardens Essential Oil Infused Aromatherapy Room Spray With Gemstones, which had been imported from India and sold at 55 Walmart stores.
The bacteria causes a rare illness called melioidosis, which causes symptoms that can be confused with a flu or a cold and is treatable with certain intravenous antibiotics if caught early.
Walmart voluntarily recalled about 3,900 bottles of the product from the 55 stores in 18 states after the company became aware of the concerns, according to spokesperson Randy Hargrove. The company also reached out to over 2,000 customers who had purchased the spray alerting them of the recall and offering refunds.
“Our sympathies go out to the four families that have been impacted by this situation," Walmart said in a statement issued in October 2021. "Customer safety is always a top priority and as part of the recall we proactively put plans in action to notify customers and prevent further product sales while federal agencies continue their investigation.”
In a statement Friday, Better Homes & Gardens said they take issues of consumer safety "extremely seriously" and "fully supported Walmart last year as they worked to ensure that the product was recalled and discontinued.”
The spray was linked to a multistate outbreak that killed a 5-year-old boy in Georgia and a 53-year-old woman in Kansas. The aromatherapy spray was also the source of the illness of a 53-year-old man in Minnesota and a 4-year-old girl in Texas.
According to the CDC, the Texas patient's previously healthy pet raccoon broke a bottle of the spray and walked through the liquid in March 2021. The raccoon "displayed acute neurologic symptoms consistent with neurologic melioidosis" about two weeks after the exposure and died three days later.
“This is the first reported presumed melioidosis case documented in a raccoon and the first animal case linked to this outbreak,” the CDC said in a report published Friday.
The CDC traveled to the Texas property to collect samples from the raccoon, who had been buried on the family's property, and the surrounding environment.
Of the twelve tissue samples collected, two of them from the raccoon's intraorbital tissue tested positive for Burkholderia pseudomallei, reaffirming that the animal likely died of acute neurological melioidosis.
All the environmental samples collected from around the raccoon's burial site tested negative for the bacteria, according to the CDC.
After identifying the bacteria in the aromatherapy product in 2021, the CDC advised anyone with the spray in their home to stop using it immediately and dispose of it by double bagging it in clear bags and a cardboard box and taking it to a Walmart location.
The bacteria Burkholderia pseudomallei are rarely found in the United States and are generally found in contaminated soil or water in parts of South and Southeast Asia.
While rare in the U.S., melioidosis is a serious disease with about 12 cases reported annually. Most cases are found in people who lived or traveled to areas where Burkholderia pseudomallei are found and person-to-person spread is "extremely rare," according to the CDC.