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Old 05-05-2006, 06:10 PM
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Default Number of Rare Eye Fungus Cases Increases

The number of confirmed cases of a rare eye fungus that can cause scarring of the cornea has climbed above 100 in recent days, but the origin of the infection linked to contact lens cleaners remains a mystery, health authorities said Friday.

Eye-care products maker Bausch & Lomb Inc. halted U.S. sales of its ReNu with MoistureLoc solution on April 10 when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed it was investigating a flurry of Fusarium keratitis infections in Americans using the product.

The proportion of patients who said they used MoistureLoc has since held steady at around 50 percent to 60 percent of the 102 cases confirmed so far, the CDC said. Other patients have reported using other ReNu brands and six said they used cleaners made by Alcon Inc. and Advanced Medical Optics Inc., it said.

"At this point, it is too early in the investigation to say whether a particular product or solution may be responsible for the outbreak," the Atlanta-based agency said in a statement.

The agency has received a total of 195 reports of eye infections caused by Fusarium keratitis ó of which 12 are "possible cases" and 81 were still under investigation. On Tuesday, the CDC said it had received 191 reports, including 86 confirmed cases.

Fifty-six of the confirmed cases involved contact-lens wearers, with 32 of them saying they used MoistureLoc, 15 saying they used ReNu MultiPlus and seven an unspecified ReNu product. In some cases, patients reporting using more than one type of lens cleaner.

A federal inspection of a Bausch & Lomb factory in Greenville, S.C., where MoistureLoc is made has not turned up evidence of contamination, but extensive microbiological tests could take weeks to analyze.

Without eye-drop treatment, the infection can scar the cornea and blind its victims. At least eight patients have required cornea transplants. Because it's not a disease that doctors must report, it is unclear how many cases occur annually.

Of the more than 30 million Americans who wear contact lenses, about 2.3 million of them use MoistureLoc and nearly 11 million use MultiPlus.

MoistureLoc first hit store shelves in late 2004 and contains new-generation moisturizing and conditioning agents. It generated $45 million in U.S. sales last year.

Bausch & Lomb's shares rose $1.48, or 3.6 percent, in afternoon trading Friday on the New York Stock Exchange, at the low end of their 52-week range of $40.75 to $87.89. They had slumped 15.3 percent over the two previous days as concerns grew that the fungus may be linked to more of the company's lens cleaners.

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