68 now sickened, 4 lose eyeballs in outbreak linked to eyedrops

The outbreak strain has never been seen in the US before. Health officials think it was brought into the country in contaminated eye drops manufactured an India-based manufacturer.

ARS TECHNICA – An alarming outbreak of extensively drug-resistant bacteria linked to eye drops has now sickened 68 people across 16 states, according to the latest update from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

At least 16 people have been hospitalized, eight have lost vision, and four have had their eyeballs surgically removed (enucleation). One person has died, which was reported earlier.

The agency first released a health alert on the outbreak February 1. At that point, the outbreak had sickened 55 people in 12 states, with the one death reported in a Washington patient. In an update emailed to Ars on February 22, the CDC said the case count had reached 58, with five cases of vision loss and one enucleation.

The continued rise in cases and severe outcomes highlights the challenge of fighting the germ behind the outbreak, which is an extensively drug-resistant form of Pseudomonas aeruginosa.

It has the unwieldy name of Verona Integron-mediated Metallo-β-lactamase (VIM) and Guiana-Extended Spectrum-β-Lactamase (GES)-producing carbapenem-resistant Pseudomonas aeruginosa—or VIM-GES-CRPA, for short.

Drops were available nationwide via Amazon, Walmart 

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The VIM-GES-CRPA outbreak strain is rare and has never been seen in the US before. Health officials think it was brought into the country in contaminated eye drops manufactured by Global Pharma, a Chennai (Madras), India-based manufacturer.

[Chennai, formerly known as Madras, has a population of 6.4 million, about the size of Chicago and Los Angeles combined. Ten percent of Chennai residents are illiterate. 29% live in slums. – HH] 

The products were sold under the brand names EzriCare Artificial Tears and Delsam Pharma’s Artificial Eye Ointment, which were available nationwide via Amazon, Walmart, and other retailers.

Both products have been recalled, and the Food and Drug Administration put out separate warnings for consumers to immediately stop using the products.

The agency noted that Global Pharma has had multiple manufacturing violations, including:

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“lack of appropriate microbial testing, formulation issues (the company manufactures and distributes ophthalmic drugs in multi-use bottles, without an adequate preservative), and lack of proper controls concerning tamper-evident packaging.”



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