One person has died and at least three others are suffering permanent vision loss due to a bacterial infection possibly linked to an over-the-counter brand of eye drops, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The majority of those affected reported using preservative-free EzriCare artificial tears before falling ill, the CDC reported in a Jan. 20 statement.
Although the infections have not been definitively attributed to the eye drops, the CDC recommended that “patients immediately discontinue use of EzriCare artificial tears until epidemiological investigation and laboratory testing are complete.”
So far, the CDC team has identified at least 50 people in 11 states with Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a type of bacteria resistant to most antibiotics. Cases have been reported in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Nevada, Texas, Utah and Washington.
Most patients reported using EzriCare artificial tears before becoming ill.
Eleven developed eye infections, and at least three of them were blinded in one eye. Others had respiratory infections or urinary tract infections. One person died when the bacteria entered the patient’s bloodstream.
It is not known whether the affected patients had underlying eye conditions, such as glaucoma or cataracts, which would have made them more sensitive. Symptoms of an eye infection include pain, swelling, discharge, redness, blurred vision, sensitivity to light, and a sensation of a foreign body stuck in the eye.
Pseudomonas aeruginosa bacteria are commonly found in water, soil, and even on the hands of otherwise healthy people. Infections caused by the bacteria usually occur in hospital settings in people with weakened immune systems.
This type of bacteria is often resistant to standard antibiotics.
“That’s what’s so concerning,” said Dr. Jill Weatherhead, assistant professor of tropical medicine and infectious diseases at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. “Our standard treatments are no longer available” to treat this infection.
The drops under study are labeled as being preservative-free. That is, the product does not contain anything that could inhibit microbiological growth. The product may have been contaminated during the manufacturing process or when someone with the bacteria on their skin opened the container.
The CDC found the bacteria in eye drop bottles and is currently testing whether this bacteria matches the strain found in patients.
As of Tuesday, EzriCare Artificial Tears had not been recalled. They were sold on Amazon and in stores such as Walmart.
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