When four people in four separate states came down with a rare tropical disease known as melioidosis, CDC investigators were stumped. The four individuals had no known connection to one another and they hailed from states across the country: Georgia, Kansas, Minnesota, and Texas. Add in the fact that the infections weren’t clustered around a particular time frame and were, instead, spread over the months of March to July and the mystery was only growing more complex.
Genetic sequencing determined that the bacteria in each infection were very closely linked with one another. Investigators began testing anything and everything within the patients’ orbits. Soil and water samples were taken from around their homes and every product in their households was tested and analyzed to try to find a link.
Finally, at the Georgia home of someone who had died from the disease, they found their source: a bottle of Better Homes & Gardens Lavender & Chamomile Essential Oil Infused Aromatherapy Room Spray with Gemstones. The $4 bottle had been manufactured in India, shipped overseas, acquired by Walmart, sold through approximately 55 of their stores and online, and made its way into this home, as well as thousands more throughout the United States.
In fact, nearly 4,000 bottles of the product have been sold this year and have now been recalled under some of the most stringent recall conditions ever put in place. Consumers are asked to return the products to their nearest Walmart locations after putting the bottle into a resealable plastic bag and then placing that bag into another resealable plastic bag. The two bags are then to be placed into a small cardboard box and sealed.
For a country that has been in a constant state of heightened alert to germs and germ precautions thanks to a fight against COVID-19 that is now well into its second year, it feels like the biological risks presented by a bottle of air freshener are just one more log to add to an already roaring fire.