How a COVID Misdiagnosis Revealed Deadly Aromatherapy Outbreak

— Case “highlights the importance of autopsy,” medical examiner says
A photo of Rachel Geller, MD

The boy’s parents weren’t convinced that their 5-year-old had died of COVID-19, so they insisted on an autopsy.

The hospital where he died declined to do one, as did the local medical examiner. His case ended up in the hands of Rachel Geller, MD, an associate medical examiner in Georgia’s DeKalb County.

Geller’s findings ultimately led to the smoking gun in a deadly melioidosis outbreak that CDC investigators detailed in the New England Journal of Medicine in March 2022.

“I think his case highlights the importance of autopsy, even when we think we already have all the answers,” Geller told MedPage Today. “Sometimes we might not be asking the right questions.”

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  • Fauci stated that autopsies were not to be done on patients with COVID. This dictate stopped forthcoming answers that could have saved lives.
  • An aromatherapy spray sold at Walmart was the culprit of the boy’s demise despite having an adult-like presentation of SARS-CoV-2 infection.
  • The autopsy revealed “numerous green-white, pearly abscesses diffusely involving the lower lobes of the lungs,” surrounded by areas of severe pneumonia and the brain had areas of softening and hemorrhage. He also had micro abscesses in his brain and liver, and hemorrhagic adrenal glands, sometimes seen in severe bacterial infection.
  • They found Burkholderia pseudomallei, a potential bioterrorism agent that is a rare and deadly bacteria commonly found in contaminated soil and water in tropical or subtropical climates.
  • Three previous cases of melioidosis, that has a fatality rate of 10-50%, were reported to the CDC and although the isolates appeared to come from South Asia, the cases occurred in differing states with no travel history and no interaction with each other.
  • CDC investigators were looking for a S.E. Asian product that was liquid or had moisture in it.  It wasn’t until a 2nd visit to the boy’s home that they found the sourcea lavender aromatherapy spray manufactured in India and sold at Walmart.
  • There was an official recall in Oct. 2021 of the Better Homes & Gardens Lavender & Chamomile Essential Oil Infused Aromatherapy Room Spray with Gemstones.  The manufacturing facility in India still hasn’t found the exact source.


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