$4 Walmart lavender room spray confirmed as cause of 2 deaths, severe illnesses in U.S.

a picture of the light purple room spray
Four thousand bottles of the Better Homes & Gardens Essential Oil Infused Aromatherapy Room Spray With Gemstones was recalled from Walmarts across the U.S. in November 2021. Handout / CPSC

An imported lavender aromatherapy spray sold at U.S. Walmart stores last year killed two Americans and caused debilitating illness in others, according to a study published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM).

The spray in question, Better Homes & Gardens Essential Oil Infused Aromatherapy Room Spray With Gemstones, was found to be tainted with the bacteria Burkholderia pseudomallei, which can cause melioidosis in humans.

Melioidosis is an uncommon infection, typically associated with exposure to contaminated soil and water in tropical and subtropical environments, and usually diagnosed only in people who have travelled to these locations.

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But in the case of the U.S. outbreak, none of the infected people had travelled outside of the country prior to becoming sick. And, according to the study’s analysis, all those infected picked up the same strain that had a similar genetic fingerprint, meaning all the patients had been exposed to a common item.

Study researchers said that a five-year-old Georgia boy was rushed to hospital on July 12, 2021 and died four days later after experiencing fever, vomiting, a swollen tongue and, later, a stroke.

He was diagnosed with COVID-19 after arriving at hospital, but the study said his death is attributed to melioidosis and that the coronavirus infection likely exacerbated his symptoms.

Lylah Baker, a four-year-old preschooler from Texas, was the other who fell gravely ill after her grandmother used the spray in her home.

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Lylah was admitted to hospital in Dallas last May with a prolonged fever. The infection quickly spread to her brain.

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“You never expect a room spray,” Lylah’s aunt Ashley Kennon told the newspaper last October. “It’s just crazy that this is what it’s linked to.”

Lylah survived the infection but lost her ability to walk and talk, and has needed intense physical therapy in the months after.

According to the study, the other two patients were a man and woman, both 53.

The male patient went to a Minnesota hospital for weakness and confusion in June 2021. While in hospital, his fever spiked and he experienced severe hip pain.

The man was discharged later that month, but has seen no cognitive improvement when it comes to the confusion.

The female patient was hospitalized in Kansas in March 2021 with breathing problems. She went into septic shock six days later and on her ninth day in the hospital, she died.

Finding a common link

For months, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and local health officials met with the affected families, trying to figure out something all the homes had in common.

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Those sickened by the spray became ill between March and July of 2021, included both kids and adults, and all lived in separate states.

According to USA Today, each family was extensively quizzed about their household products, possessions, and activities in order to find the common link. They were asked about cleaning products, personal hygiene items, essential oils, and laundry detergent. Juices, fruit cups, tropical fish, garden soil and plants were also items of investigation.

The families handed over boxes of their personal items and products for testing, and had blood draws to determine if other family members had been exposed.

In October, investigators discovered the bacteria in an aromatherapy room spray in the Georgia boy’s home.

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“When we first got the confirmation, it came as a huge relief to us,” study co-author Julia Petras, an epidemic intelligence service officer with the CDC, told NBC News.

From there, investigators were able to link the same product to the other homes where people fell ill, suggesting all the cases were connected to this one product.

The families of both the young girl and boy told investigators that they had sometimes used the spray on pillows and bedding, Petras said.

This product, made in India, is not available in Canada, and Walmart has ordered a complete recall of all Better Homes & Gardens Essential Oil Infused Aromatherapy Room Spray With Gemstones that have been sold to consumers.

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