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CDC confirms deadly bacteria in home spray recalled by Walmart

Federal health officials have confirmed that a room spray recently recalled by Walmart contained a "rare and dangerous" bacteria that infected four people, killing two, including a child.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday said it had confirmed the DNA fingerprint of the bacteria in the spray and four people stricken with melioidosis was the same.

"When you think about the thousands of things people come in contact with around their homes, it's remarkable that we were able to identify the source and confirm it in the lab," Dr. Inger Damon, director of CDC's division of high-consequence pathogens and pathology, said in a statement. "CDC scientists and our partners found the proverbial needle in the haystack."

The agency's announcement came days after Walmart issued its nationwide recall.

The retailer sold about 3,900 bottles of Better Homes and Gardens-branded-Essential Oil Infused Aromatherapy Room Spray with Gemstones in six different scents, according to a recall notice posted Friday by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

The CDC tested a sample of the product last week and found it contained the bacteria Burkholderia pseudomallei, which causes melioidosis, a rare but serious disease with about a dozen cases reportedly annually in the U.S. "Since Friday, CDC testing of an additional bottle of the spray has tested positive for the bacteria," the agency said in its Tuesday statement. 

Walmart's recall came two months after the CDC warned the bacterial disease had caused two deaths and urged doctors to be on the lookout for more cases.

Consumers are urged not to use — or even open — the recalled spray. Instead, they are advised to wear gloves and double bag the bottles in zip-top clear resealable bags, which should be placed in a small cardboard box and returned to a Walmart store for a refund. The company is also offering a $20 Walmart gift card for customers who return the product. 

The CDC emphasized the importance of safely handling the recalled sprays, urging consumers against pouring the contents down drains or throwing the bottles 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," according to the agency.

Any surfaces or fabrics that may have been sprayed with the product would be wiped down or washed. The five-ounce glass bottles of room spray retailed for about $4 each, and were sold in in about 55 stores and online from February through October.

One of six scents of aromatherapy room spray recalled by Walmart. U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission

Walmart has stopped selling the product, which was made in India and sold with a pump spray nozzle in the following scents and product numbers: 

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

Most cases of melioidosis occur in people who live in or have traveled to areas where the bacteria naturally occurs, such as parts of Asia and Australia, as well as occasionally in Brazil, Mexico and Puerto Rico. It causes a wide range of symptoms that can be confused with other common illnesses, like flu or a cold, according to the CDC.

The bacteria detected in the bottles is the same type that sickened four people earlier this year, with one of the recalled sprays found October 6 in the home of a Georgia resident stricken with melioidosis in late July, according to the agency. The CDC is conducting tests to determine if the genetic fingerprint of the bacteria in the bottle matches those found in three other patients, the agency said Friday in a statement.

"Our hearts go out to the families that have been impacted by this situation," Dr. Inger Damon, director of CDC's division of High-Consequence Pathogens and Pathology, which manages melioidosis, said in a statement. "Our scientists have continued to work tirelessly to try to find the potential source for the melioidosis infections in these patients. We hope this work can help protect other people who may have used this spray."

Walmart issued a separate statement late Friday.

"We are deeply concerned that there may be a connection between this product and this rare bacteria. Our sympathies and concerns are with the four families that have been impacted. We took immediate action after federal agencies alerted us Wednesday of concerns with an aromatherapy room spray manufactured by Flora Classique Inc. and sold under the Better Homes & Gardens brand. We pulled the product from the shelves of about 55 stores where it was part of a pilot program and put a register block in place at our stores and online to prevent any further sales."

The company also reiterated the importance of handling the products safely and returning to Walmart.

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Based in Wildomar, California, Flora Classique is affiliated with Ramesh Flowers Pvt. in Tuticorin, India, one of that nation's largest manufacturers and exporters of home fragrance and decor products, according to information on Flora Classique's website.  Flora Classique mostly distributes its products at mass retailers and discount stores throughout the U.S., operating warehouses in Wildomar and Memphis, Tennessee.

The company is a part of the Gala Group, a German manufacturer of candles, home scents and home decor that employs about 5,000 and operates production sites in Europe, North America and India.

The U.S. Department of Defense in June awarded a $3 million contract to the University of Hawaii at Manoa's School of Life Sciences to develop a vaccine for melioidosis, which experts say can be a potential bioterrorism threat. 

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