CDC lab testing confirms cause of melioidosis outbreak

Oct. 29, 2021

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirms that bacteria in a Better Homes & Gardens aromatherapy spray in a Georgia melioidosis patient’s home genetically matches the bacterial strains in the patient, and three other patients in Kansas, Minnesota, and Texas infected since March.

CDC announced Friday that a bottle of the BHG aromatherapy spray in “Lavender & Chamomile with Gemstones” scent had tested positive for Burkholderia pseudomallei, the bacteria that causes melioidosis. But the final step in the investigation, being reported today, was to confirm the DNA fingerprint of the bacteria in the spray and in the patients was the same. This allows CDC to confirm the spray or one of its ingredients caused the four melioidosis infections.

“When you think about the thousands of things people come in contact with around their homes, it’s remarkable we were able to identify the source and confirm it in the lab,” said Inger Damon, MD, PhD, director of CDC’s Division of High-Consequence Pathogens and Pathology.

With the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and Walmart, CDC has contacted the manufacturer in India to determine whether ingredients from the implicated spray were used in any other products. CDC scientists are working to assess the extent of contamination in other bottles and whether other scents may also be contaminated. Since Friday, CDC testing of an additional bottle of the spray has tested positive for the bacteria. 

Anyone who has a bottle of BHG Lavender & Chamomile Aromatherapy Spray with Gemstones or other scents in the same product line purchased from Walmart online or in these Walmart store’s external icon between February and Oct. 21, 2021, should stop using it immediately and follow the steps listed on CDC’s website to safely return the product to Walmart. CPSC and Walmart recalled about 3,900 bottles of aromatherapy spray on Oct. 22. Walmart is offering consumers a refund and a $20 gift card for its return. 

CDC emphasized that consumers should not pour the contents down the drain or throw the bottle in the trash. The bacteria that cause melioidosis does not normally live in soil and water in the United States. If the spray bottles end up in landfills, the bacteria could become established and cause future melioidosis cases in the U.S. CDC is working with Walmart to ensure the returned bottles are disposed of properly and safely.

CDC release