Death Toll Climbs From Tainted Eyedrops, CDC Announces

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Two more people were confirmed to have died after using tainted eye drops, bringing the death toll to three since the outbreak was first reported in February.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed Tuesday that two more people have died following a bacterial infection of the highly drug-resistant strain of Pseudomonas aeruginosa that was linked to over-the-counter eye drops in February.

EzriCare Artificial Tears, Delsam Pharma’s Artificial Eye Ointment and Delsam Pharma’s Artificial Tears were recalled by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in February after health officials reported a growing number of bacterial infections in 12 states. All three products are manufactured by Indian company Global Pharma Healthcare and were found to contain traces of the deadly and hard to treat bacteria in opened bottles.

Since the outbreak was first reported, infections have spread to 16 states and have affected 68 people – three of whom have died, the CDC announced in a March 21 release. In addition, eight people have suffered permanent vision loss and four have required surgery to remove the affected eye. Prior to this outbreak, Pseudomonas aeruginosa had never been reported in the United States. (RELATED: Company Recalls Eye Drops Amid Growing Sterility Concerns)

The infections for the patients affected by the outbreak have not only been found in the eye, but also in the urine, lungs and blood of some patients. CDC officials explained that since the eye is connected to the nasal cavity and to the tear ducts, bacteria can move from the nasal cavity to the lungs. Bacteria in the lungs can enter the bloodstream, spreading the infection.

“We are actively gathering more information about long term patient outcomes, particularly for patients with eye infections,” a spokesperson for the CDC told CBS News.

Though the Pseudomonas aeruginosa has been found to be highly -resistant to treatments, the CDC announced that researchers at the University of California at San Diego have been working with a bacteriophage that appears to be showing some success in treating the bacteria.

“Phage” therapies developed by the university’s Center for Innovative Phage Applications and Therapeutics are designed to save patients with infections caused by drug-resistant bacteria by deploying viruses to attack the bacteria, CBS News reported.

“The approach we take is that we respond to inquiries from physicians about patients they feel might benefit from phage therapy and, if it appears that phages might be beneficial in a particular patient, we work with the physician,” Dr. Robert Schooley, co-director of the center, told CBS News.

Any clinician interested in trying phage therapies for those who might be affected by the outbreak is encouraged to contact the center. The CDC is also asking any patient who has used EzriCare or Delsam Pharma’s artificial tears and who are exhibiting signs or symptoms of an eye infection to seek medical care immediately.