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Contact Wearers Beware of Eyeball-Eating Amoeba

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"The drugs used are often ineffective and its a very brutal regime."

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An acanthamoeba may not be a term you're likely to hear at the optometrist while being outfitted for a new prescription for contacts, but it's a good reason to heed their warnings about proper contact lens care.

The acanthamoeba is a microorganism found to essentially crawl through the eye's cornea causing not only pain but also potentially permanent blindness. The United Kindgom's Press Association recently reported though incidence if the infection is rare -- only about 75 people of the 3.7 million contact lens wears in the U.K. are treated each year -- it's still worth being aware of how to best avoid contracting it.

The UKPA states that the parasite, which burrows into the eye, can be picked up from a dirty case or from rinsing lenses in tap, river, pond or lake water. It also notes the condition, Acanthamoeba keratitis, is often misdiagnosed. Once contracted, treatment includes a hospital stay with "round-the-clock administration of disinfecting eye drops," UKPA states. If the infection is bad enough, the cornea could need to be replaced or blindness could also result.

With more than 125 million contact lens wearers worldwide, UKPA reports University of West Scotland's Dr. Fiona Henriquez saying it's a problem facing every single one of them. Live Science points to a 2009 CDC report that found incidence of the amoeba in the U.S. is one to two cases for every million contact wears of which there are about 36 million in the country.

"There are no effective drug treatments. The drugs used are often ineffective and its a very brutal regime. It requires hospitalisation and topical applications of a toxic substance to the eye. We're trying to improve the elimination of this parasite and prevent blindness," Henriquez said.

The warning of this amoeba was issued at the British Science Festival at the University of Aberdeen where single-use contacts that were disposed of each day were recommended as the safest option.

The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention states that almost everyone will be exposed to these types of amoebas in their lifetime -- they can also enter through cuts or be inhaled into the lungs -- but few become sick. This infection in the eye is one of three diseases acanthamoeba can cause.

(H/T: CBS Local DC)

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