Death toll climbs in outbreak linked to recalled eye drops as new treatment identified
The death toll has now climbed to three in the outbreak of extensively drug-resistant bacteria that was linked to recalled eye drops, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Tuesday, confirming two more deaths in people infected by Pseudomonas aeruginosa.
Eight people have lost their vision and four have had their eyeballs removed, according to the CDC's latest update, out of 68 patients identified across 16 states with the bacteria. One death had previously been reported in a Washington state man.
A total of three eye products have been recalled from the brands EzriCare and Delsam Pharma — all imported from Indian firm Global Pharma Healthcare Private Limited — as health authorities raced to investigate the outbreak suspected to be linked to opened eye drops that were purchased online and in retailers, as well as obtained through ophthalmologist offices.
Two eye products from other manufacturers have also been recalled in recent weeks for unrelated contamination concerns.
The Pseudomonas aeruginosa strain in the outbreak is exceedingly rare and had never before been seen in the U.S. It is especially challenging for doctors to treat given it has developed resistance to a dozen different antibiotics.
"Pseudomonas was a contributing case of death for one patient; for other two patients the role of Pseudomonas in the death is unknown," CDC spokesperson Martha Sharan said in an email.
Sharan did not offer details to where and when the two new deaths occurred, aside from saying that they occurred within a month of when specimens of the bacteria were collected. Earlier testing from already-opened bottles of EzriCare's product had spotted bacteria linked to the outbreak in multiple lots.
"Two patients had confirmed use of EzriCare and one patient is not known to have used EzriCare, but is epidemiologically linked to patients who did," said Sharan.
News of the outbreak's growing toll comes as the CDC says researchers at the University of California at San Diego have identified a bacteriophage that might work to treat the extensively drug-resistant bacteria.
The university's Center for Innovative Phage Applications and Therapeutics has previously touted so-called "phage" therapies that it developed to save patients with infections caused by drug-resistant bacteria.
These kinds of treatments work by deploying viruses that aim to attack bacteria, fending off infections that traditional antibiotic drugs fail to stamp out.
"The approach we take is that we respond to inquiries from physicians about patients they feel might benefit from phage therapy and, if it appears that phages might be beneficial in a particular patient, we work with the physician," Dr. Robert Schooley, co-director of the center, told CBS News in an email.
Schooley said no patients have so far been treated in the outbreak with the phage they have picked out, which appears to match against samples sent by the CDC. Before the viruses can be given to patients, the center has to work with doctors to navigate the "intricacies of obtaining and using them."
"We and other collaborators are continuing to screen for additional active phages," he said.
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