Walmart Recalls Aromatherapy Spray the CDC Has Linked to 2 Deaths From a Rare Bacteria—Here's What to Know

Here's what to do with the room spray if you purchased it.

Walmart has issued a recall of an aromatherapy room spray that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has linked to two deaths from a rare bacterial illness called melioidosis.

About 3,900 bottles of the Better Homes & Gardens Lavender & Chamomile Essential Oil Infused Aromatherapy Room Spray with Gemstones have been sold across 55 Walmart stores and the company's website between February and October 21, 2021. (Health and Better Homes & Gardens are both owned by Meredith.)

The CDC shared in a press release on Friday that laboratory testing helped trace the melioidosis outbreak, which began last summer, to the contaminated room spray. The bacteria Burkholderia pseudomallei, which causes melioidosis, was found in the room spray that was located in the home of a Georgia resident who became sick in late July, the CDC said.

The agency is now conducting more testing to see if the genetic fingerprint of the bacteria in the bottle matches those of the other patients who mysteriously came down with the disease across the country.

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All of the patients who developed melioidosis from this outbreak had symptoms that included cough and shortness of breath, weakness, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, a fever on and off, and a rash on the trunk, abdomen, and face, the CDC explained.

Walmart is specifically recalling the following scents:

  • Better Homes and Gardens Gem Room Spray Lavender & Chamomile (product number 84140411420)
  • Better Homes and Gardens Gem Room Spray Lemon and Mandarin (product number 84140411421)
  • Better Homes and Gardens Gem Room Spray Lavender (product number 84140411422)
  • Better Homes and Gardens Gem Room Spray Peppermint (product number 84140411423)
  • Better Homes and Gardens Gem Room Spray Lime & Eucalyptus (product number 84140411424)
  • Better Homes and Gardens Gem Room Spray Sandalwood and Vanilla (product number 84140411425)

This recall, issued in conjunction with the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), raises questions about melioidosis and how it can end up in a room spray. Here's what you need to know.

What is melioidosis?

Melioidosis, aka Whitmore's disease, is an infectious disease that can infect humans or animals, the CDC says. It's most commonly found in Southeast Asia and northern Australia, as well as other tropical climates.

Melioidosis is caused by the bacterium Burkholderia pseudomallei, which can show up in contaminated water and soil. The bacteria can then spread to people and animals through direct contact with a contaminated source, the CDC explains.

People can contract melioidosis by inhaling contaminated dust or water droplets, drinking contaminated water, eating food that was in contaminated soil, or coming into direct contact with contaminated soil, the CDC says.

What are the symptoms of melioidosis?

There are different types of melioidosis infections, and symptoms can vary by type. Here's a breakdown of symptoms, per the CDC:

Localized infection

  • Localized pain or swelling
  • Fever
  • Ulceration
  • Abscess

Pulmonary (chest) infection

  • Cough
  • Chest pain
  • High fever
  • Headache
  • Anorexia

Bloodstream infection

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Respiratory distress
  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Joint pain
  • Disorientation

Disseminated (widespread) infection

  • Fever
  • Weight loss
  • Stomach or chest pain
  • Muscle or joint pain
  • Headache
  • Central nervous system/brain infection
  • Seizures

How can people get melioidosis from room spray?

The CDC hasn't determined exactly what happened just yet, but Richard Watkins, MD, an infectious disease physician and professor of internal medicine at the Northeast Ohio Medical University, tells Health that Burkholderia pseudomallei could have gotten into the spray "during the manufacturing process."

Thomas Russo, MD, professor and chief of infectious disease at the University at Buffalo in New York, agrees. He notes that the room spray was made in India, per the CPSC. "We know that Burkholderia pseudomallei is endemic in the environment in soil and water in Southeast Asia," he tells Health. "I would presume that one of the parts of this formula got contaminated, and something about the conditions of the spray may have allowed it to grow."

People could then get melioidosis from breathing in the vapors generated by the room spray, Dr. Watkins says. "The spray could cause a cloud of Burkholderia that can lead to pneumonia in people who breathe it in," Dr. Russo adds.

What should you do if you have this room spray?

If you have one of the room sprays in the recall, the CDC recommends that you take the following steps:

  • Stop using the spray immediately. Do not open the bottle and don't throw it away or put it in the regular trash.
  • Double bag the bottle in clean, clear, zip-top bags and place in a small cardboard box. Return the bagged and boxed product to a Walmart store.
  • Wash any sheets or linens that the spray may have been used on using normal laundry detergent and dry them completely in a hot dryer.
  • Wipe down counters and surfaces that might have the spray on them with undiluted Pine-Sol or a similar disinfectant.
  • Limit how much you handle the spray bottle and wash your hands thoroughly after touching the bottle or linens. If you used gloves, wash your hands afterward.

If you used the spray within the past 21 days and you have fever or other symptoms of melioidosis, the CDC recommends that you get medical care ASAP and tell your doctor that you were exposed to the spray. If you don't have symptoms but were exposed to the spray in the last seven days, your doctor may recommend that you get on antibiotics to prevent an infection.

Should you be worried about room sprays going forward?

Not necessarily. "This seems to be a rare occurrence—not something that is a general risk from room sprays," infectious disease expert Amesh A. Adalja, MD, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, tells Health.

But Dr. Russo points out that room sprays aren't really regulated in the US. "One hopes that there will be more quality control moving forward in room sprays and other aerosolized products to make sure that they don't have pathogens in them," he says. Still, Dr. Russo adds, "you don't need to stop using all room sprays. This is pretty unusual."

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