Bausch and Lomb pulls contact solution from shelves after reports of fungal infections

Saturday, April 15, 2006

No cases of a fungal infection of the eye that can cause blindness have been reported in Missouri, but eye-care professionals urged caution for users of a contact lens cleaner pulled from the market.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control are investigating more than 100 cases of Fusarium keratitis in 17 states. And when a review found that a large number of those infected were users of a new formula of ReNu, Bausch & Lomb Inc. pulled it from the U.S. market. The company had already cut off shipments to the Far East after dozens of reported infections in Singapore, Hong Kong and Malayasia.

The new formula, called ReNu with MoistureLoc, was first marketed in late 2004.

A spokesman for the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, Brian Quinn, said he's not aware of any cases in Missouri. No alerts have been issued warning the state to be on the lookout for cases, he said.

The Marion Eye Centers & Optical offices have removed ReNu from its shelves, said Rachel Shewmake, an optometrist with the firm's Cape Girardeau office.

"We've gotten rid of all of our ReNu and we are making sure our patients are not using that and we give them something different," Shewmake said.

Fusarium is commonly found in plant material and soil in tropical and subtropical regions. Treatment consists of using eyedrops for two to three months. Untreated, the infection can scar the cornea or cause blindness. Symptoms include blurry vision, redness or swelling, pain and sensitivity to light.

Cleanliness when handling contact lenses is essential, said Elly Hughes, retail manager at Doctors Valuvision in Cape Girardeau. There is no evidence that there was any contamination in the Bausch & Lomb production facility, Hughes said, citing the latest reports she has seen on the investigation.

Still, the company won't be dispensing ReNu until it can be eliminated as the cause, she said.

Keys to good hygiene when handling contact lenses include washing hands with soap and water; following guidelines for cleaning, replacing and storing lenses; keeping the lens case clean and replace every three to six months and contacting a doctor immediately if any symptoms of Fusarium appear.

"Always clean the case every day," Hughes said. "And always, always wash your hands before touching the lenses or putting the contacts in your eyes."

Bausch & Lomb and government scientists have looked at more than 100 possible factors to determine whether ReNu played a role in the infections, said chief executive Ron Zarrella. They have examined chemical ingredients, batch tanks and production lines as well as packaging and shipping procedures and through that analysis, "we haven't found a correlation with anything," Zarella said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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