The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported an outbreak of extensively drug-resistant bacteria linked to contaminated eye drop products. Over 50 cases have been found to date, with most patients having reportedly used EzriCare Artificial Tears, while the CDC has found the bacteria in opened bottles of the brand from two states. At least one person has died from the infection, while some have been hospitalized or permanently lost their vision.
News of the outbreak emerged in January, with the CDC issuing a health advisory over the outbreak this Wednesday. As of January 31, 55 people across 12 states are known to have contracted the same strain of Verona Integron-mediated Metallo-β-lactamase (VIM) and Guiana-Extended Spectrum-β-Lactamase (GES)-producing carbapenem-resistant Pseudomonas aeruginosa, or VIM-GES-CRPA. These infections are extensively drug-resistant, able to ward off a wide variety of antibiotics, though this specific strain does still appear susceptible to one antibiotic tested against it. Another worrying aspect is that this strain is the first known to feature a combination of two particularly concerning resistance genes at the same time (blaVIM-80 and blaGES-9).
The cases have occurred between May 2022 and January 2023, with 35 cases traced back to four healthcare facilities. The most common link between them was the use of eye drop products prior to infection. People have reported using more than 10 different eye drop brands, with some using multiple brands, but the majority have used EzriCare Artificial Tears. Additionally, CDC testing has identified the same outbreak strain in opened bottles from separate lots from two states (New York and New Jersey).
Drug-resistant P. aeruginosa has become a serious public health threat, along with other superbugs. In 2017, according to the CDC, these bacteria caused an estimated 32,600 infections among hospitalized patients and 2,700 estimated deaths in the U.S. Illness from P. aeruginosa can vary widely depending on the primary site of infection and people’s underlying health. People during this outbreak have developed eye, respiratory, and urinary tract infections. One person has died from widespread infection, while others have been hospitalized and/or suffered vision loss due to a cornea infection.
Officials are still trying to find the ultimate source of the outbreak, including whether the contamination occurred during manufacturing. The New Jersey-based EzriCare has claimed that it is “not aware of any testing that definitively links” the outbreak to its products, but it has reportedly contacted customers and has said that it will cooperate with the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration, should they make any further requests. The eye drops are manufactured in India by Global Pharma Healthcare PVT Limited and are then sold under different brands. According to EzriCare, Global Pharma is currently in talks with the FDA and is expected to issue a recall of the products.
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In the meantime, the CDC is strongly advising people to stop using the brand. And it’s warning doctors and testing labs to be on alert for more potential cases of the outbreak. People who have used these drops and have signs or symptoms of an eye infection, such as discharge from the eye, eye pain, and redness, should seek medical care right away.