Contact lens and optical product maker Bausch & Lomb has quietly managed to settle nearly 600 fungal-infection lawsuits for $250 million plus. While dozens more individual claims yet to be resolved.
Many lost their sights, more than 700 lens wearers in the United States and Asia were exposed to a potentially blinding infection known as Fusarium keratitis while using ReNu with MoistureLoc, a new-formula multipurpose solution for cleaning, storing and moistening soft contact lenses.
In many cases the damage was irreparable and permanent. Seven people in Florida, Maryland, New York, Oregon, Tennessee and West Virginia had to have an eye removed. At least 60 more Americans needed vision-saving corneal transplants.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed 180 cases in 35 states from June 2005 through September 2006, when the agency’s dedicated surveillance stopped, according to Dr. Benjamin Park, a CDC epidemiologist. CDC continued to hear of sporadic, unconfirmed cases in the months after MoistureLoc was withdrawn, Park said.
In was so devastating infection so rare that most eye doctors had never seen such cases, somehow eluded MoistureLoc’s disinfecting defenses. The outbreak appeared first in Hong Kong in spring 2005 and reached its peak in the United States just days after MoistureLoc was removed from domestic markets in April 2006.
Victims typically complained of eye irritation that progressed to a sudden onset of searing pain. Many were mistakenly treated with antibiotics and steroids — a delayed diagnosis that worsened the condition. A woman in New York was afflicted three months after Bausch & Lomb announced a worldwide recall in May 2006.
According to experts, alexidine, the novel disinfectant used in MoistureLoc, was absorbed too quickly by the contact lenses and that the moisturizing ingredients in the solution formed a biofilm that promoted the growth of the fungus to levels capable of causing infection.
However, chairman of the American Optometric Association, Dr. Arthur Epstein, believes that the truth has been very carefully buried, and it appears to have been buried going back to the beginnings of the outbreak.