The number of people with highly drug-resistant bacterial infections linked to contaminated eyedrops has reached 81, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Friday.
The 81 cases, up from 68 identified in March, include 14 people who have been blinded and four others who had to have their eyeballs surgically removed.
Though most infections have been limited to the eyes, the bacteria can be fatal when it enters the bloodstream. As of May 15, the CDC said, four people have died.
The infections come from a specific strain of Pseudomonas aeruginosa bacteria that has proven impossible to control with standard antibiotics.
Before last year, this particular form of the bacteria had never before been reported in the United States.
Now, cases have been discovered in 18 states: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, North Carolina, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin.
The initial infections started popping up last year.
Cases were first noted in Connecticut in June. Doctors in Miami started seeing such infections late last summer. An Ohio woman became infected in November.
Many cases occurred among clusters of people living in long-term care facilities, the CDC said.
The Food and Drug Administration has also been leading an investigation into the contaminated drops. But the agency’s last update on the matter was February 22.
The FDA did not respond to requests from NBC News for a more recent update.
Though many patients said they’d used multiple brands of eyedrops, only EzriCare Artificial Tears, as well as Delsam Pharma’s Artificial Tears and Delsam Pharma’s Ointment, have been linked to the outbreak.
The products were manufactured by Global Pharma Healthcare in India, and sold mostly online. They were recalled in February.
Both the CDC and FDA have urged consumers to stop using any of those products.
Symptoms of an eye infection include:
- Yellow, green or clear discharge from the eye.
- Eye pain or discomfort.
- Redness of the eye or eyelid.
- Feeling of something in your eye (foreign body sensation).
- Increased sensitivity to light.
- Blurry vision.