Better Homes & Gardens Aromatherapy Spray Causes Melioidosis Outbreak

The Walmart-distributed Better Homes & Gardens aromatherapy spray “Lavender & Chamomile with Gemstones” was identified as causing melioidosis in 4 individuals, 2 of whom died.

The Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) confirmed on Tuesday that melioidosis bacterial strains in Georgia, Kansas, Minnesota, and Texas have been traced to a Better Homes & Gardens aromatherapy spray. The spray caused melioidosis in 4 people across these states and killed 2 of them.

The spray, “Lavender & Chamomile with Gemstones,” tested positive for the melioidosis-causing bacterium Burkholderia pseudomallei. The spray was previously suspected as the cause of the outbreak, but this was confirmed when the DNA fingerprint of the bacteria in the patients matched the spray.

“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. “CDC scientists and our partners found the proverbial needle in the haystack.”

Melioidosis, also called Whitmore’s disease, is a tropical disease rare in the US but widespread in Southeast Asia and northern Australia. The bacterium Burkholderia pseudomallei is found in contaminated water and soil, and spreads to humans and animals through direct contact with the contaminant.

The CDC asked consumers who had purchased this and other sprays in the product line not to throw them away or dump them down drains, as this could allow the bacteria to become established and cause future melioidosis cases in the US.

The spray was sold in 55 Walmart stores and on its website from February-October 21, 2021. The contaminated “Lavender & Chamomile with Gemstones” scent has been recalled, as have 5 others in the product line, though it is not yet known if others in the line are affected. The CDC has been working with the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and Walmart to contact the manufacturer in India and determine whether the contaminant ingredient is in other scents of the aromatherapy spray.

On October 22, the CPSC and Walmart recalled approximately 3900 bottles of the aromatherapy spray. Consumers who purchased any of the recalled sprays should stop use immediately and safely return the product to Walmart. Walmart is offering consumer a full refund and $20 gift card upon receipt of the spray.

Person-to-person spread of melioidosis is very rare; infections are most frequently caused by inhalation of contaminated dust or water droplets, ingestion of contaminated water, ingestion of soil-contaminated food, or other contact with contaminated soil, especially through skin abrasions. There are typically 12 cases of melioidosis reported in the US each year. Melioidosis causes a wide range of symptoms that can often be confused with symptoms of common mild illnesses.