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3,900 bottles of scented room spray recalled over rare bacterial infections


A cluster of rare bacterial infections has been traced to a lavender chamomile room spray. As NPR's Pien Huang reports, nearly 4,000 bottles are now being recalled.

PIEN HUANG, BYLINE: Over the spring and summer, four people in four different states came down with a rare tropical disease called melioidosis. It's caused by bacteria found in Southeast Asia and North Australia. But Maria Negron, an epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says the strange thing was that it was pandemic times and nobody had gone anywhere.

MARIA NEGRON: We found that these patients did not travel internationally, and the patients did not know each other.

HUANG: The four patients lived in Kansas, Minnesota, Georgia and Texas, and they were all infected with the same bacterial strain.

NEGRON: That made us think that this was likely an imported product.

HUANG: Thus began months of sleuthing. Negron says scientists at the CDC sampled hundreds of items from the patients' homes.

NEGRON: Common disinfectant cleaning products, medications that they used, toothpaste.

HUANG: And this week, they've matched bacteria from the patients to a strain in a bottle of lavender chamomile aromatherapy room spray from the Better Homes and Gardens brand sold by Walmart. The bacteria in the contaminated spray can cause infections if they are inhaled, eaten or get into an open wound, and infections can be very dangerous. Two of the four patients have died. Still, Negron says, if you have a bottle at home, it's not guaranteed to kill you.

NEGRON: In most cases with a person who's exposed to the bacteria, the body will fight it off, and they will not become ill. Or if they become ill, it will be just with a fever.

HUANG: Sometimes a cough or a headache. It can look like a lung infection so it can be mistaken for flu or COVID. Negron is pretty sure there are more cases to be found, and she wants doctors on the lookout so they can treat it properly. Walmart, for its part, is recalling 3,900 bottles of scented room spray made in one factory in India and sold in the past eight months. The recall includes scents like lime and eucalyptus, lemon and mandarin. Negron says they're still not sure which specific ingredients were contaminated. And if you have a bottle, she says, don't throw it in the trash where the bacteria could spread to other things. Instead...

NEGRON: Double bag the bottle in a Ziploc bag, and then return the bag to your closest Walmart store.

HUANG: The CDC also recommends bleaching your sheets, disinfecting any other surface that may have been sprayed and washing your hands very thoroughly after.

Pien Huang, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SYMMETRY'S "BEHIND THE WHEEL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Pien Huang is a health reporter on the Science desk. She was NPR's first Reflect America Fellow, working with shows, desks and podcasts to bring more diverse voices to air and online.