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Lens Wearers, Beware

26 May 1995


c.gif (1084 bytes)ontact lens wearers who develop eye infections from lens solutions may themselves be the sources of the microbes causing the problem.

The bacterium that most frequently contaminates eye care products comes from the human body, not from water, air, or other environmental sources, microbiologists at The Catholic University of America have found.

Showering or bathing may actually transfer the culprit, Serratia marcescens, to a person's hands, says Benedict T. De Cicco, a professor of biology. From there the microbes move to faucets, basins, vanity tops, and soap dishes.

The organisms survive for only minutes on a person's hands but live longer on the bathroom's inanimate surfaces, De Cicco says.

Persons can acquire more bacteria by touching contaminated items and transferring the S. marcescens to lens cases or solution bottles.

The organisms can adapt to chemical preservatives in contact-care products, multiplying to more than one million organisms per milliliter of solution, he says.

When a person rinses or stores lenses in affected solutions, the bacteria can adhere to the lenses and be transmitted to the eyes during wear.

Persons sharing a bathroom frequently contaminate each other when they touch sinks, door handles, soap and towels. To lessen chances of infection, lens wearers should wash their hands often, avoid touching the bottle tips of eye care products, and clean bathrooms with disinfectants, De Cicco says.

The findings were presented at the American Society for Microbiology's recent meeting. De Cicco directs the university's Microbial Applications Laboratory, which receives grants from pharmaceutical and contact lens companies.

Study co-authors were James Keever, research associate, and Jennifer Olear and Emily Fasnacht, students.

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Revised: 27 October 1997

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The Catholic University of America,
Office of Public Affairs.