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Ongoing Outbreak of Rare Eye Infection Found Among Contact Lens Wearers

A cyst-forming microorganism that can cause an infection of the cornea has become an ongoing threat for contact lens wearers in the U.K., CNN reports. The infection, Acanthamoeba keratitis, has tripled since 2011, affecting 2 in every 100,000 contact lens wearers.

While the numbers are lower in the U.S., the seriousness of this disease should not be overlooked, as the most severe cases can end up needing a corneal transplant — or worse: You could end up blind. Plus, the organism is “very resistant” to the antibiotic drugs used to treat it. CNN noted that one way to avoid this infection is to not let your contacts come in contact with water, especially hard-water areas where lime scales allow the microorganism to grow.

We’ve known for quite some time that wearing contact lenses alters your eyes’ microbiome, making them have three times more of the following:

  • Methylobacterium, found in soil, sewage, and leaves
  • Lactobacillus, found in the digestive and urinary tract
  • Acinetobacter, found in soil and water (and thought to be responsible for the majority of infections)
  • Pseudomonas, found widely in the environment and may lead to ear infections and other serious issues, including corneal infection

For this reason, it’s important to always take utmost care in cleaning your lenses and making sure not to use your tap water to do that. Speaking of tap water, it’s also true that tests by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found over 267 toxins in public drinking water sources in nearly 50,000 different water utilities — and that alone should be enough to encourage you to never put tap water in your eyes or on your contacts.

Even more concerning is the mention in the featured article that the organism causing so many eye infections for contact lens wearers is resistant to the drugs used to treat it. Acanthamoeba keratitis aside, in the U.S. alone, other antibiotic-resistant pathogens are conservatively estimated to cause at least 2 million infections annually, leading to 23,000 deaths every year. The sad fact is antibiotic resistance has become a major threat to public health worldwide, and the primary cause for this man-made epidemic is the widespread misuse of antibiotics — drugs used to combat bacterial infections in humans and animals.

The take-home message here, then, is threefold: First, practice the best hygiene possible with your contact lenses, and follow all instructions your optician or ophthalmologist gives you on wearing them; second, never, ever clean them with tap water; and third, even if you don’t wear contact lenses, it’s time to consider filtering your water as an investment in your health.

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