So far, 68 people in the United States have been infected with a rare strain of bacteria that has killed three people and blinded at least five others. The hypothesis advanced by the health authorities: artificial tears for the eyes which could be contaminated by a strain never before reported in the United States of the bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa.

Produced in India, EzriCare artificial tears and Delsam Pharma eye ointment have been pulled from shelves in the United States. They would not have been distributed in Canada.

On January 20, 2023, the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announced an investigation into eye drop contamination with Pseudomonas aeruginosa. “Recent epidemiology and laboratory evidence link the use of EzriCare artificial tears,” the statement read.

The CDC then recommended that doctors and patients stop prescribing or using them immediately.

On Feb. 24, Global Pharma announced it was voluntarily recalling a batch of eye ointment sold under the Delsam Pharma brand “due to possible microbial contamination” and poor packaging, the statement said.

Since the beginning of March, two other companies, Apotex and Pharmadica, have in turn carried out voluntary recalls of lots of their own eye products – respectively Brimonidine Tartrate Ophthalmic Solution and Purely Soothing. Pharmadica justified this on the grounds that some lots might not be sterile; Apotex reported cracks in some cylinders.

On March 21, citing EzriCare and Delsam Pharma products, the CDC announced that 68 people from 16 states were infected, three of whom died and four had their eyeballs removed.

Dr. Donald Vinh, microbiologist-infectiologist at the McGill University Health Center, explains that the bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa is present in all countries. The concern here “is that the strain in question is multidrug-resistant to antibiotics.”

Multi-resistant antibiotic strains “appear regularly in infectious diseases, but we are still concerned about them”, added Dr Vinh.

The tragedy in the United States is a reminder of how important it is to be careful when taking care that seems trivial, both for the eyes (poorly protected by the immune system, explains Dr Vinh) and when getting a sinus rinsing for example (which should not be done with tap water).

In a commentary published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), doctors Christina R. Prescott and Kathryn A. Colby note that of all the drugs they prescribe or all the care they provide, tears artificial “are generally considered benign”.

Their effectiveness “is often a matter of debate, but until recently few ophthalmologists had concerns about their safety.”

“Manufacturers of artificial tears are not required to conduct clinical trials to market their products if they follow the guidelines of the Food and Drug Administration monograph on over-the-counter ophthalmic pharmaceuticals, which may mean that ‘there is less monitoring of their quality,’ they write.

They conclude: “The current situation is a tangible reminder that any type of eye drop can have adverse effects. »