The corneal infection that is ten times more common in the UK

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Acanthamoeba Keratitis (AK) is an infection of the cornea that is caused by a microorganism called Acanthamoeba which is quite commonly found in most natural water bodies as well as in taps, swimming pools, and hot tubs.

Some symptoms of this inflammation of the cornea include problems with vision and extreme pain in the eyes. The infection is most common among contact lens wearers, especially if lens hygiene is compromised due to contact with water.

In CNN’s recent coverage of an outbreak of this rare infection, Dr John Dart who led the research study at University College London said: ‘Acanthamoeba keratitis is one of the worst corneal infections’. Although the disease is quite rare in general, the comparison between the chances of an outbreak in the UK and the US is somewhat shocking. Due to the way in which water is stored and supplied in the UK, it’s possible for 2 in 100,000 people to get affected each year whereas in the US, the number is as low as 2 in 1 million. Not only that, in recent years, the average number of cases reported per year in the southeast of England has almost tripled in comparison to previous years.

Unsurprisingly, these facts and figures are giving contact lens wearers much cause for alarm, especially as this is not an easy infection to cure. Acanthamoeba is highly resistant to most drugs, including standard antiseptic eye drops, and effective treatment can last up to one year, if not longer. And once cured, it requires up to 38 weeks of follow-up visits to ensure proper recovery.

In extreme cases, the infection can lead to partial blindness, ulcers and a host of other problems including, holes in patients’ eyes that require surgical intervention. In 2011, Irenie Ekkeshis was diagnosed with Acanthamoeba Keratitis. She was a daily user of disposable contact lenses and maintained strict lens hygiene. Despite this, she woke up one morning with sore eyes, horrible pains and a distinct sensitivity to light. Like many others who contracted Acanthamoeba Keratitis, she lived in the southeast of England, where hard water and limescale levels are optimal for the Acanthamoeba to grow.

Today, eight years later, Irenie continues to visit hospital due the various other problems that resulted from the corneal transplant she was forced to undergo as a remedial measure for her initial infection. She is a strong advocate for increasing awareness about this rare condition, especially when the users are not aware of the risks of letting them come in contact with water. The best way to protect yourself against eye infections, especially if you are a contact lens wearer is to practice good lens hygiene or avoid use of contact lenses in swimming pools. Laser eye surgery can also be effective in avoiding the need for contact lens wear to help you avoid this rare but serious eye infection.

If you’re considering laser eye surgery, here are a couple of things to bear in mind:

  1. It is a quick procedure, with relatively low recovery time.
  2. It is a painless procedure.
  3. It is also very popular – almost 15,000 procedures are carried out each year in the UK.
  4. The most common treatment essentially reshapes the cornea (thus fixing your vision problems) using a laser.
  5. It effectively removes the need for glasses and contact lenses.

Consultant Ophthalmologist Mr Sanjay Mantry said, ‘With over 90% of the cases reported in the UK being associated with contact lens wearers, laser eye surgery is definitely worth considering as it significantly reduces the risk of corneal infections such as Acanthamoeba Keratitis’.

You don’t need a referral from your GP or health care practitioner in order to speak to an ophthalmologist so book an appointment now to discover your options for safer eye care.

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