Blinding amoeba targets contact lens users

September 7th, 2012 - 5:09 pm ICT by IANS  

London, Sep 7 (IANS) A deadly amoeba present in tap water, showers and swimming pools, is targeting contact lens users by chewing through their eyeballs and causing blindness.

The bug has been identified as Acanthamoeba, a parasite also found in dust. The number of infections is small but treatment is long, painful and not completely reliable, leaving some Britons blind every year.

Symptoms include itchy and watery eyes, blurred vision, sensitivity to light, swelling of the upper eyelid and extreme pain. Fiona Heriquez, of the University of the West of Scotland, said: “It is a potential problem for every single contact lens wearer.”

Craig Roberts, professor at Strathclyde University, who is working with Henriquez to produce better cleaning solutions for contact lenses, said: “It’s absolutely everywhere.”

When the lens is placed on the eye, the amoeba starts to eat its way through the cornea, the outer layer of the eyeball and keeps breeding as it goes. Vision can be permanently damaged within a week, said Graeme Stevenson, an optician, the Daily Mail reports.

“Generally it leaves you with scarring. Your cornea is your window on life and if the infection penetrates into the third layer, you are left with scarring, with a kind of frosty windscreen,” adds Stevenson.

He added that many of the 75 infections recorded each year in Britain occur because people fail to follow instructions by their opticians.

“Usually a lot of it is non-compliance. It’s patients rinsing their case out in tap water or rinsing their lenses out in tap water. Potentially something as simple as swimming or showering while wearing their lenses increases the risk significantly.”

Treatment includes Dettol-like eye drops, with patients initially being treated every 20 minutes, day and night and spending up to three weeks in hospital. The most severe cases are given cornea transplants.

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