A WOMAN was infected with a waterborne parasite after she removed her contact lens with damp hands.
Charlotte Clarkson had been wearing corrective lenses to improve her short-sightedness.
The lenses help reshape the front of the eye as you sleep, in order to help you see better by day.
One evening the 24-year-old put her lenses in with slightly damp hands and didn’t think anything of it.
The next morning Charlotte woke up and felt as though she had a piece of grit in her eye.
It was in fact a minuscule waterborne parasite called acanthamoeba that left her blind.
Acanthamoeba is found in water and soil and can get into the eyes through gardening.
The main cause, according to charity Fight for Sight is poor contact lens hygiene.
The charity states that around 95 per cent of infections are in contact lens wearers.
The condition occurs when the parasite gets trapped between the cornea and the contact lens.
What is acanthamoeba?
Acanthamoeba keratitis (AK) is an infection of the cornea.
It can be very painful for those with the infection and can cause serious conditions – with the most severe infections leading to blindness.
Moorfields Eye Hospital states: “The infection is caused by a microscopic organism called Acanthamoeba, which is common in nature and is usually found in bodies of water (lakes, oceans and rivers) as well as domestic tap water, swimming pools, hot tubs, soil and air.”
It states that while acanthamoeba’s organisms dot generally cause harm to humans, they can cause serious damage if they infect the cornea.
“Not all species of Acanthamoeba have been found to cause corneal infections.
“AK is most common in people who wear contact lenses, but anyone with a corneal injury is susceptible to developing the infection.”
It eats into the cornea, causing severe pain and in a quarter of cases, blindness.
Speaking to the Daily Mail, Charlotte, who works as a nanny in Edinburgh, said while she was aware it was dangerous to swim or shower while wearing lenses, she said she didn’t know how dangerous even a little bit of water could be.
“I had no idea that even the most minimal contact with water could have such devastating effects”, she said.
After being infected with the parasite, Charlotte who was working at a children’s holiday camp in Canada – was forced to spend three months in a darkened room because of the pain.
Charlotte had been wearing the lenses since the age of 13 so was surprised when she woke up to a strange feeling in her eye.
She went to the doctors – only to be diagnosed with a stye and told that it would clear up in a few days.
Two weeks later she sought a second opinion and was prescribed anti-biotics.
Over the following weeks her condition worsened and her boss suggested she see a specialist.
Charlotte added: “He looked at my eye under a microscope and literally shuddered: ‘Oh my goodness,’ and I knew then that I wasn’t dealing with a stye.”
She was then misdiagnosed again with a condition that causes the cold sore virus – HSV keratitis and was given steroid drops.
Charlotte had a badly swollen face and was admitted to hospital for tests.
Eight weeks later Charlotte saw a specialist who asked her if she used contact lenses and whether or not she had been exposed to water.
Charlotte said she knew she shouldn’t use a shared towel before changing her lenses but had “no idea” that damp hands could cause such a problem.
She was advised to return home to Scotland after having the “time of her life in Canada”.
For weeks Charlotte was bedridden at her parent’s house.
She had been forced to wear an eye patch and glasses inside as the light was too bright for her.
With most patients who have experienced the condition, the only hope of restoring sight is through a corneal transplant.
The cornea, which had been eaten away by the parasite would be replaced with a donor one.
In patients with the condition though – there is a high risk of failure.
Now 18 months on – Charlotte is functioning with the sight in her left eye and is once again working as a nanny.
She has to use eye drops once a day in order to stop the parasite returning.
Her symptoms had fitted the bill when it came to acanthamoeba.
Charlotte had received two corneal scrapes, which is when a small sample of cells are taken from the eye – but both tests came back negative for the parasite.
Professor John Dart, a consultant ophthalmologist at University College London’s Institute of Ophthalmology said these scrapes only pick up half of infections.
He added: “Even if acanthamoeba keratitis is suspected, the corneal scrape has a low sensitivity, which means we can identify only 50 per cent of true positives.
“It is a scandal that contact lens companies don’t have to put ‘how to use’ information in with their packaging or ‘no water’ stickers on the boxes.
“People also need to be aware that they need to avoid all contamination with water. They can do this by cleaning and drying their hands before insertion and removal.”, he added.