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Federal health officials have uncovered a new clue that may explain how four people, including one Minnesotan, contracted the rare tropical disease melioidosis.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Friday said that on Oct. 6, it found a contaminated essential oils bottle in the home of a Georgia patient who fell ill with melioidosis in July. 

In that aromatherapy spray bottle, lap testing detected the bacteria Burkholderia pseudomallei — which is the same type of bacteria that caused the four recorded melioidosis cases in the U.S. this year.

"CDC is continuing testing to see if the genetic fingerprint of the bacteria in the bottle matches those of the bacteria identified in the four patients," the agency said.

The first case, which was fatal, was diagnosed in Kansas in March 2021. The second and third cases were identified in May 2021 in Minnesota and Texas. The fourth case, in Georgia, was also fatal.

The product in question is Better Homes & Gardens Lavender & Chamomile Essential Oil Infused Aromatherapy Room Spray with Gemstones, the CDC says. It was sold at 55 Walmart stores and on Walmart's website starting in February of this year, until Oct. 21. At that point, Walmart pulled the spray. The retailer also issued a recall.

Melioidosis is found in contaminated water and soil, most often in South Asia and Australia. It is spread to humans and animals through direct contact with a contaminated source, but none of the four individuals who contracted the disease had traveled outside the country.

The recall affects six scents, which came in 5-ounce glass bottles and can be seen above:The aromatherapy spray isn't confirmed to be the culprit. The CDC is still conducting tests, including collecting blood samples, and is working with health departments to figure out if the patients might have used the product. But the CDC notes the strain that sickened them is similar to those usually found in south Asia, and that the aromatherapy product was made in India.

The recall affects six scents, which came in 5-ounce glass bottles and can be seen above:

  • Lavender & Chamomile
  • Lemon and Mandarin
  • Lavender
  • Peppermint
  • Lime & Eucalyptus
  • Sandalwood and Vanilla 

CPSC is urging anyone with a bottle of the spray to not throw it away — instead, seal it up via double bagging, put it in a cardboard box and bring it to Walmart. In addition, if anyone has sprayed the product, they should take some disinfecting steps immediately. (Read those steps here.)

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