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Eye fungus culprits: solution, hygiene

Aug 22, 2006 | Newsday

Federal health investigators narrowed the cause of a mysterious outbreak of a potentially blinding eye fungus that affected scores of people earlier this year to poor hygiene practices and a cleaning solution made by Bausch & Lomb.

The report, in this week's Journal of the American Medical Association, said there were 164 confirmed cases. Users of the ReNu with MoistureLoc solution were 20 times more likely to get the infection than people who did not use that brand.

"We found that overwhelmingly MoistureLoc contact lens solution posed a high risk," said Dr. Benjamin J. Park, an epidemiologist on the investigative team at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "The source of the infection was people's homes."

Park said that the "genetic diversity" of the fungus, Fusarium keratitis, they found after tests of contact lens cases, the factory and unopened bottles indicated that improper care contributed to the outbreak.

"This bug is a fungus that can be found in many different areas, including sinks and drains. The next question is why this one solution," Park said.

Dr. Marcelle Morcos, chief of the ophthalmology at the Nassau University Medical Center, said eye care experts speculate that a special disinfectant in the solution was the culprit.

"When it dries a little on the cornea it could be a good .medium for the fungus to grow," Morcos said. "There could have also been outside contamination."

Fifty-five people, or 34 percent, needed a corneal transplant, the report found.

In an accompanying commentary, other researchers called for additional study of all multipurpose lens-care solutions being sold similar to MoistureLoc to determine their safety.

In a statement on its Web site acknowledging the CDC report, Bausch & Lomb said: "We are working with eye care practitioners to create an ongoing discussion with contact lens wearers about proper care of their lenses and their eyes."

The company pulled MoistureLoc from the market in early April when the CDC announced it was investigating the outbreak.

The eye fungus infection whose symptoms include blurred vision can scar the cornea and blind its victims.

Park said that the CDC's investigation continues.

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