One person dies and more fall ill after using contaminated eye drops

The eye drops were recalled when cases increased (Picture: Getty Images)

A person has died and dozens more have fallen ill after a ‘superbug’ outbreak linked to contaminated eye drops.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said three eye gels contained Burkholderia cepacia, which is an antibiotic resistant bug, that can be fatal for immunocompromised patients.

A voluntary product recall of all three products was announced by the UK’s medicines watchdog on November 23 2023.

The pulled products included AaCarb, Aacomer and Purpotics eye gel.

These gels are given to people who suffer from dry eyes.

The UKHSA said the outbreak peaked in October to November 2023. Since January 2024 there has been a marked reduction in the number of new cases occurring.

It was only during the October to November surge that officials were able to link the outbreak to the eye drops.

It said: ‘Testing of products submitted by hospitals with cases, conducted at UKHSA Food Water and Environment laboratories, identified contaminated carbomer-containing lubricating eye products as the source of this outbreak.’

This graph shows the distribution of confirmed and probable cases over time (Picture: UKHSA)

The carbomer eye gel was recalled in November

UKHSA issued a national patient safety alert in December advising all medics in the NHS to avoid using carbomer eye gels with high-risk patients, such as those going through chemotherapy. 

As of March 21 2024, there were 52 confirmed and 6 probable cases associated with the outbreak, according to the report.

No further details on the person from Britain who died has been announced.

The health watchdog added the bacteria-contaminated eye gels are thought to have ‘contributed to the death’ of one person.

The medications were manufactured by a company in India called Indiana Ophthalmics.

Indiana Ophthalmics manufactured the products (Picture: Google Maps)

25 cases were assessed by UKHSA as having ‘clinically significant infections’ brought on by Burkholderia cenocepacia.

The vast majority were already in hospital being treated for another issue when they were given the eyedrops by staff unaware they were using a contaminated product.

11 suffered with eye infections, while some developed ulcers in their eyeball, and others got conjunctivitis and a serious ‘deep tissue infection’. 

The youngest patient was a baby and the oldest was 91.

Burkholderia cepacia complex (Bcc) are naturally resistant to many antibiotics.

The UKHSA said it can sicken people with weakened immune systems and those living with cystic fibrosis.

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It explained the products are now back on the shelves following a reduction in cases and said: ‘The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has now received sufficient assurance from manufacturers and suppliers to conclude that products available on the UK market are safe to use and free of contamination.

‘As of 21 March 2024, UKHSA, MHRA and the Incident Management Team are satisfied that the risk associated with this outbreak has reduced such that there is no longer need to avoid use of carbomer-containing lubricating eye products.

‘Therefore, the recommendation to avoid use of all carbomer-containing eye products in individuals with cystic fibrosis, patients being cared for in critical care settings, the severely immunocompromised and patients awaiting lung transplantation has been stepped down.’

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