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Fungus spreads; Bausch & Lomb stock falls

CDC finds more infections; more of company's products might be contaminated

May 4, 2006 | AP

Shares of Bausch & Lomb Inc. fell sharply Wednesday after the federal Centers for Disease Control confirmed more cases of a serious eye infection and concerns grew that the fungus might be linked to more of the company's contact lens products.

Shares of Bausch & Lomb fell $4.78, or 9.8 percent, to close Wednesday at $43.97 on the New York Stock Exchange.

The stock had lost 28 percent of its value this year amid concern over the safety of its products and as the company grappled with accounting troubles in recent months.

The CDC reported Tuesday 191 infection cases were confirmed or under investigation in 29 states. Of those, 86 have been confirmed as Fusarium keratitis, which can scar the cornea and blind its victims if left untreated.

Bausch & Lomb pulled its ReNu with MoistureLoc solution off store shelves in the United States in April after the CDC said it was scrutinizing a flurry of Fusarium keratitis infections in Americans using that or other Bausch & Lomb products.

U.S. health officials have found no direct link between MoistureLoc and the infections. But a high proportion of patients interviewed had used the brand.

A smaller percentage said they had used ReNu MultiPlus or another Bausch & Lomb product, while a handful of patients reported using products from competitors Advanced Medical Optics Inc. and Alcon Inc., the CDC said.

The stock prices of those companies were virtually unchanged Wednesday.

Bausch & Lomb said in a statement it is cooperating with the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration "to determine the root cause of the unusual incidence of fungal keratitis."

The company continued on its Web site to recommend that former MoistureLoc users switch to the MultiPlus or original ReNu Multi-Purpose solution "or another respected brand."

Public-health investigators said they have complete data on 58 cases of Fusarium keratitis; 56 were contact lens users, and 32 of them had used Bausch & Lomb ReNu with MoistureLoc, 15 had used ReNu MultiPlus and seven had used an unspecified ReNu solution.

The CDC said three patients had used an Alcon solution, and three had used one from Advanced Medical Optics.

Last month, it was revealed that Bausch & Lomb's manufacturing plant in Greenville, S.C., which has been at the center of the investigation into what's causing the infections, was cited by the FDA in 2002.

The company faces lawsuits related to the infections.

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