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Bausch & Lomb settles 600 eye fungus lawsuits

June 01, 2009
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Over the past year, away from the glare of public scrutiny, the optical products Bausch & Lomb Inc. has quietly settled nearly 600 fungal-infection lawsuits -- with dozens more individual claims yet to be resolved, according to the Associated Press. The cost so far: Upward of $250 million. More than 700 lens wearers in the United States and Asia say they were exposed to a potentially blinding infection known as Fusarium keratitis while using ReNu with MoistureLoc, a new-formula multipurpose solution for cleaning, storing and moistening soft contact lenses. Sometimes, the damage was irreparable. Seven people in Florida, Maryland, New York, Oregon, Tennessee and West Virginia had to have an eye removed. At least 60 more Americans needed vision-saving corneal transplants. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed 180 cases in 35 states from June 2005 through September 2006, when the agency''s dedicated surveillance stopped, according to Dr. Benjamin Park, a CDC epidemiologist. The culprit, an infection so rare that most eye doctors had never seen a case, somehow eluded MoistureLoc''s disinfecting defenses. The outbreak appeared first in Hong Kong in spring 2005 and reached its peak in the United States just days after MoistureLoc was removed from domestic markets in April 2006. Victims typically complained of eye irritation that progressed to a sudden onset of searing pain. Many were mistakenly treated with antibiotics and steroids -- a delayed diagnosis that worsened the condition. Leading eye doctors and government scientists concluded that MoistureLoc, launched in 2004 with novel disinfectant and moisturizing ingredients, was the only lens solution that contributed to the outbreak. Yet the mechanics of how it caused the problem are still not fully clear. Some researchers theorize that the disinfectant, alexidine, absorbed into lenses at unusually high rates and the moisturizing agents created a biofilm in some circumstances that shielded and even fostered growth of the fungus to infectious levels. Financial analysts and lawyers estimate the MoistureLoc debacle could wind up costing as much as $500 million. But far more draining for Bausch & Lomb has been losing its dominance in the lucrative lens care market: 2.3 million of the nation''s 30 million soft lens wearers used MoistureLoc, generating $100 million in annual sales. While Bausch says it has settled "the vast majority of fungal infection cases," it is challenging another 500-plus lawsuits linking MoistureLoc to assorted bacterial, viral and parasitic afflictions. A pretrial hearing set for June 3-5 in New York will decide if there''s a reliable scientific basis for arguing such a link.
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