CDC Posts Update to Investigation Into Infections Linked to Eye Drops

Sixty-eight patients have been affected, in 16 states, and artificial tears were used by many of them, the CDC says.

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Jessica Rendall
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A close-up shot of an eye drop dripping out of a bottle
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Some eye drops, or artificial tears, are linked to a multistate investigation into a cluster of bacterial infections that have resulted in vision loss, hospitalization and death, according to a Feb. 1 alert for health care providers from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

On Tuesday, the CDC posted an update about its investigation, saying three patients have died and that researchers at the University of California at San Diego have identified a potential treatment. They've found a bacteriophage -- a type of virus that may be used to treat drug-resistant bacteria -- that's shown "activity against" Pseudomonas aeruginosa, the strain of bacteria in the outbreak. As CBS News reported, no patients so far have been treated with the phage.

The US Food and Drug Administration in early February posted a voluntary recall by Global Pharma Healthcare of EzriCare's and Delsam Pharma's artificial tears. The eye drops could be contaminated, according to the recall, and may be associated with the CDC's ongoing investigation into "extensively drug-resistant" infections that weren't responsive to a range of antibiotics. Later that month Global Pharma Healthcare also recalled an artificial eye ointment under Delsam Pharam's brand name. The CDC says not to use either EzriCare's or Delsam Pharma's artificial tear products pending additional information. 

Most infected patients included in the CDC's investigation reported using artificial tears. As of mid-March, 68 cases have been identified, in 16 states, dating back to May 2022. Many cases were linked to four different health care facilities. The most common brand name reported was EzriCare, prompting the CDC to recommend people stop using that brand for the time being, before a recall was posted by the FDA. 

However, patients reported using over 10 brands of artificial tears, according to the alert, sometimes using multiple brands. Global Pharma Healthcare manufactures both EzriCare and Delsam Pharma drops, the only brands currently included in the recall. 

Two bottles of EzriCare eye drops

EzriCare said in early February that customers should discontinue use of its lubricating eye drops, and that as soon as the company received word of the CDC's investigation notice, EzriCare "immediately took action to stop any further distribution or sale." The company also said then that it's willing to work with health agencies, but it added that it's "not aware of any testing that definitively links" the infections to EzriCare's Artificial Tears.

In a statement last month, Global Pharma Healthcare said it's "fully cooperating" with health authorities in the US in the investigation, but so far "we have not determined whether our manufacturing facility is the source of the contamination."

"Nevertheless, out of an abundance of caution, we are recalling the products at issue," the manufacturer told CNET. 

Delsam Pharma, the other eye drop brand manufactured by Global Pharma Healthcare and included in the recall, said last month that the company is following the recall request. Delsam also noted that the CDC hasn't linked Delsam's eye drops specifically to its investigation. Its products are part of the recall because they're manufactured by the same company that makes EzriCare's.

A picture of recalled eye drops
Delsam Pharma via the US Food and Drug Administration

Artificial tears are often used for treating dry eyes. Preservative-free ones like the ones being recalled have fewer additives that are meant to discourage bacteria growth. However, they might be recommended for people who use them frequently or multiple times a day.

Symptoms of an eye infection include discharge from the eye (yellow, green or clear), eye pain, redness of the eye or eyelid, feeling like something's in your eye, increased sensitivity to light and blurry vision, according to the CDC. Eye infections can be serious and you should seek medical care right away if you have symptoms. 

If you have questions about the products being recalled, you can contact EzriCare's distributor at 518-738-7602 or arupharmainc@yahoo.com, and Delsam Pharma at 866-826-1309 or delsampharma@yahoo.com.  

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.