Washington resident dies from infection linked to retail eye drops

Feb 2, 2023, 3:50 PM
eye drops...
(Photo by: Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
(Photo by: Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

A person from Washington state has died from an infection linked to a brand of over-the-counter eye drops contaminated with bacteria.

UW Associate Professor and practicing ophthalmologist Courtney Francis, M.D., told KIRO Newsradio the person who died lived in King County, according to the Washington State Department of Health. Additional details about the person have not been released.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is launching an investigation into bacterial contamination of multiple brands of eye drops, which are being linked to at least 55 infections in 12 states and have led to instances of permanent vision loss and hospitalization, in addition to the one reported death in Washington.

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The CDC said the majority of the reported infections are linked to “EzriCare Artificial Tears,” but the contamination could be connected to more than 10 other brands. These eye drops are preservative-free, meaning they don’t have ingredients to prevent bacterial growth.

The bacteria, identified as Pseudomonas Aeruginosa, is often found outdoors, particularly in water and soil, and can infect eyes, lungs, and blood, particularly in people with weakened immune systems.

“Pseudomonas is a very common bacteria, especially in patients with contact lenses,” Francis said. “But this particular strain of Pseudomonas is much more rare in that it is resistant to a number of antibiotics that are usually used to treat the infection.”

Francis is also the president of the Washington Academy of Eye Physicians and Surgeons.

The CDC received reports of infections of the cornea, intraocular fluids, respiratory tract, and urinary tract, in addition to reports of sepsis.

The bacteria in the open bottles could have come from contamination either during use or during the manufacturing process, the CDC said. Testing of unopened bottles is ongoing.

After learning about the investigation on Jan. 20, the company “immediately took action to stop any further distribution or sale of EzriCare Artificial Tears,” EzriCare wrote in an official statement. “To the greatest extent possible, we have been contacting customers to advise them against continued use of the product.”

The eye drops are made in India, and the company understands the same product is also marketed under other brand names. The manufacturer, Global Pharma Healthcare PVT Limited, is working on a recall with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, according to EzriCare.

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The CDC urges anyone using the eye drops to throw them out immediately and contact a health provider if they have any concerns. Symptoms of an eye infection include pain, swelling, discharge, redness, blurry vision, sensitivity to light, and the feeling of a foreign object in the eye.

The Washington State Department of Health is expected to release more details later today on the person who died.

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Washington resident dies from infection linked to retail eye drops