Outbreak Of Rare Eye Infection That Can Cause Blindness Found Among Contact Lens Wearers

Users of reusable contact lenses are more likely to have poor contact lens hygiene, contaminate the lens with water, and use ineffective contact lens solutions. They are also more prone to contracting Acanthamoeba keratitis, a rare eye infection.   ( Wikimedia Commons )

What is Acanthamoeba keratitis? Researchers have identified the rare eye infection among reusable contact lens users in the UK. While it is still considered largely preventable and rare, the number of infected persons has significantly increased in recent years.

Acanthamoeba Keratitis In The UK

Acanthamoeba keratitis is a rare eye disease that causes the cornea to be painful and inflamed. It is caused by an infection by a cyst-forming microorganism called Acanthamoeba, and 25 percent of the infected require corneal transplants to treat the disease or to restore vision. Those who get severely infected may remain with less than 25 percent of their vision, or even go completely blind and require long-term treatment.

The infection is still considered rather rare, but data collected by researchers from the Moorfields Eye Hospital and the University College London revealed that compared to the 2000-2003 period wherein there were just eight to 10 cases per year, infections increased to 36 to 65 cases per year in recent years.

The data they collected were from the Moorfields Eye Hospital, which treats over a third of all acanthamoeba keratitis cases in the UK, so their find is broadly relevant to the UK. Incidentally, acanthamoeba keratitis is also more commonly found in the UK than any other country, possibly due to the higher levels in domestic water supply.

Contact Lens Users More At Risk

Anyone can be affected by disease, but contact lens users are evidently more at risk of contracting it. In a case-control study the researchers conducted, 63 people diagnosed with acanthamoeba keratitis and 213 without it completed a questionnaire that revealed their risk factors for contracting the disease. The participants were daily reusable contact lens users, and all went to the Moorfields Eye Hospital between 2011 and 2014.

Evidently, the risks of contracting the disease is three times greater among those who practice poor contact lens hygiene, those who use a lens disinfectant without Oxipol, those who do not always properly wash and dry their hands before handling the contact lens, those who wore contact lenses in hot tubs and swimming pools, and even those who took showers or washed their faces with the contact lenses on.

As such, researchers note that contact lens wearers must be made aware of these risks so as to reduce the increasing incidences of this rare eye infection that can lead to blindness. According to study coauthor Dr. Nicole Carn, their research confirmed the increasing incidences of the potentially life-changing disease, and that there are many things that can be done to prevent people from losing their eyesight to it.

“This infection is still quite rare, usually affecting 2.5 in 100,000 contact lens users per year in South East England, but it’s largely preventable. This increase in cases highlights the need for contact lens users to be aware of the risks,” said the study’s lead author Professor John Dart.

The study is published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology.

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