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Outbreak of preventable eye infection in contact lens wearers

Research team found a threefold increase in Acanthamoeba keratitis since 2011

21 September 2018

A new outbreak of a rare but preventable eye infection that can cause blindness, has been identified in contact lens wearers in a new study led by UCL and Moorfields Eye Hospital researchers.

Acanthamoeba keratitis is an eye disease that causes the front surface of the eye, the cornea, to become painful and inflamed, due to infection by Acanthamoeba, a cyst-forming microorganism.

The research team found a threefold increase in Acanthamoeba keratitis since 2011 in South-East England. Reusable contact lens wearers with the eye infection are more likely to have used an ineffective contact lens solution, have contaminated their lenses with water or reported poor contact lens hygiene, according to the findings published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology.

“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, consultant ophthalmologist at Moorfields Eye Hospital.

The most severely affected patients have less than 25% of vision or become blind following the disease and face prolonged treatment. Overall 25% of people affected require corneal transplants to treat the disease or restore vision.

Anyone can be infected, but contact lens users face the highest risk, due to a combination of increased susceptibility to infection, for reasons not fully established, as a result of contact lens wear and contamination of lens cases.

Advice to contact lens wearers

“People who wear reusable contact lenses need to make sure they thoroughly wash and dry their hands before handling contact lenses, and avoid wearing them while swimming, face washing or bathing. Daily disposable lenses, which eliminate the need for contact lens cases or solutions, may be safer and we are currently analysing our data to establish the risk factors for these,” said Professor Dart.

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