Contact lens wearers should be extra careful after it was reported that incidences of a virus that can cause blindness are on the rise.
The virus is called Acanthamoeba keratitis and Moorfields Eye Hospital in London has seen a sharp upturn in cases since 2011.
Contact lens wearers are at the highest risk of contracting the virus, which causes the cornea – the surface at the front of the eye referred to as the eye’s ‘window’ – to become painfully inflamed.
According to research published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology, there were as few as eight to ten cases of Acanthamoeba keratitis reported each year between 2000 and 2003.
That’s a rate of around 2.5 people in every 100,000 contact lens users affected, but now research from University College London and Moorfields suggests that the number of cases is around two to three times higher than then.
In the most profound and severe cases (around 25 percent of the total cases) the virus can cause sufferers to lose three quarters of their vision or become completely blind.
There are preventative measures that can be taken, however. The latest study’s lead author, John Dart, UCL’s Professor John Dart, said: “This increase in cases highlights the need for contact lens users to be aware of the risks.
“People who wear reusable contact lenses need to make sure they thoroughly wash and dry their hands before handling contact lenses, and avoid wearing them while swimming, face washing or bathing.
“Daily disposable lenses, which eliminate the need for contact lens cases or solutions, may be safer and we are currently analysing our data to establish the risk factors for these.”
The microorganism that causes the virus, Acanthamoeba, can be found in relative abundance within the UK’s domestic water supplies. Those who contract the virus who wear reusable lenses are likely to have used ineffective solution to clean their lenses or to have inadequate hygiene standards, according to the research.
Another risk factor comes when showering, bathing, swimming, or using hot tubs while wearing contact lenses.
There is a support group for sufferers – the Acanthamoeba Keratitis Patient Support Group UK. Irenie Ekkeshis, of that group, said: “It is absolutely imperative that regulators and those working in the optical sector take the findings seriously, and use the recommendations to take immediate and urgent action on prevention.
“Contact lenses are medical devices and should be supplied with warnings regarding safe use.”