Rare infection that can cause blindness spikes in U.K. contact lens users

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What is acanthamoeba keratitis? Rare eye infection more likely among contact wearers – Sep 24, 2018

A recent outbreak of a rare eye infection in the U.K. has health experts urging contact lens users to be more careful.

According to a recent study published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology, the rate of rare infection Acanthamoeba keratitis has gone up three times since 2011. The infection, which can even cause blindness for some, is highly preventable.

“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,” said lead study author professor John Dart in a statement. “This increase in cases highlights the need for contact lens users to be aware of the risks.”

READ MORE: Woman had a contact lens stuck in her eye for 28 years

The study, which looked at data from 1985 to 2016, noted reusable contact lens users who had the eye infection were more likely to have ineffective contact lens solution, contaminated lenses and overall poor contact lens hygiene. Between the years of 2000 to 2003, there was an increase in cases, from eight to 10 per year to 36 to 65 cases.

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“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,” Dart continued. “Daily disposable lenses, which eliminate the need for contact lens cases or solutions, may be safer and we are currently analyzing our data to establish the risk factors for these.”

The infection

Acanthamoeba keratitis can cause the cornea to become painful and inflamed, and eventually form cysts.

The CDC added the infection can also cause permanent visual impairment, and the amoeba itself can be found in bodies of water, soil and air.

Anyone who has the infection will have symptoms like eye pain, eye redness, blurred vision, sensitivity to light and excessive tearing.

“Acanthamoeba keratitis is most common in people who wear contact lenses, but anyone can develop the infection. For people who wear contact lenses, certain practices can increase the risk of getting Acanthamoeba keratitis,” the site noted.

READ MORE: Doctors find ‘blue mass’ of 27 missing contact lenses in woman’s eye

Swimming, using a hot tub or showering while wearing contact lenses can also increase the risk, as well as coming in contact with contaminated water.

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The study noted the most severely affected patients had less than 25 per cent of their vision or went blind if they prolonged treatment. “Overall, 25 per cent of people affected require corneal transplants to treat the disease or restore vision.”

“We now need to share this information as widely as possible with clinicians, contact lens practitioners and contact lens wearers, a strategy that has proved effective in the past in decreasing the incidence and burden of this severe eye infection,” author Dr. Nicole Carnt of the University of New South Wales added.

‘The pain worsened over time’

Irenie Ekkeshis recently told CNN she was diagnosed with Acanthamoeba keratitis in 2011, even though she followed a strict contact lens hygiene routine.

She remembered feeling soreness in her eye and added the pain worsened over time.

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The site notes her treatment took three years because the standard eye drop treatment was not effective. Ekkeshis went through several other surgeries, including two corneal transplants.

The CDC added treatments include one or more prescription medications, but an eye-care professional can figure out the best treatment option for each patient.

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Contact lens hygiene 101

Speaking with Global News in July 2017, Dr. Kirsten North, an optometrist at Merivale Vision Care in Ottawa, shared her top tips for contact lens users to practice safe hygiene.

For starters, make sure your hands are clean before you handle contact lenses. Never use tap water to clean your contact lenses and never put them in your mouth.

She added to replace your solution case every three months and replace your lenses (depending on your schedule).

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