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Contact Lens Solution Linked to Eye Ailment

Bausch & Lomb halts ReNu shipments after federal officials report a possible connection to a fungal infection. The shares fall after hours.

April 11, 2006|From the Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Bausch & Lomb Inc. voluntarily suspended shipment of a contact lens solution after federal health officials linked it Monday to a fungal eye infection that can cause temporary blindness.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is investigating 109 reports of Fusarium keratitis in patients in 17 states since June 2005.

Federal and state health officials have interviewed just 30 of those patients. Of the 28 who wore soft contact lenses, 26 reported using Bausch & Lomb's ReNu brand contact lens solution or a generic type of solution also made by the Rochester, N.Y., company.

Bausch & Lomb said it would temporarily suspend shipments of ReNu with MoistureLoc made at its Greenville, S.C., plant.

Health officials have not established a clear connection between use of ReNu and the infection. But company Chief Executive Ronald Zarrella called the CDC data "both troubling and perplexing."

The company's shares plummeted more than 9% in after-hours trading, to $52.12, after the announcement. Bausch & Lomb had fallen 23 cents to $57.44 in regular trading.

Five of the 26 patients also reported using other types of solutions in addition to ReNu, Bausch & Lomb said. And nine said they wore their lenses overnight, which is known to increase the risk of infection, the CDC said.

Dr. Daniel Schultz, director of the Food and Drug Administration's Center for Devices and Radiological Health, said it was too early to determine whether Bausch & Lomb's solution was the cause of the infections. The FDA and the CDC are investigating a growing number of reports of infection by the fungus. An estimated 30 million Americans wear soft contact lenses.

The fungus is commonly found in plant material and soil in tropical and subtropical areas. Singapore health officials noticed an increase in reports of infection in January and discovered 39 cases involving contact lens users from 2005 to February of this year. Cases have also been reported in Malaysia and Hong Kong.

In February, Bausch & Lomb halted sales of its ReNu contact lens solution in Singapore and Hong Kong.

Without treatment, which can last two to three months, the infection can scar the cornea and blind its victims. Eight U.S. patients have required cornea transplants.

Soft contact lens users with eye redness or pain, tearing, increased light sensitivity, blurred vision or discharge should stop wearing contacts and see a doctor immediately, said Dr. Malvina Eydelman, director of the FDA's Division of Ophthalmic and Ear, Nose and Throat Devices.

The FDA also advises users to wash their hands well with soap and water before handling lenses and to follow cleaning and storage guidelines.

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