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A Girl Left Her Contacts In For 6 Months And Amoebas Ate Her Eyeballs


Stephen Luntz

Stephen has a science degree with a major in physics, an arts degree with majors in English Literature and History and Philosophy of Science and a Graduate Diploma in Science Communication.

Freelance Writer

1492 A Girl Left Her Contacts In For 6 Months And Amoebas Ate Her Eyeballs
Anna S. Kitzmann, M.D. Acanthamoebic keratitis is a horrific effect of improper care of contact lenses

It sounds like a classic urban myth - the sort of thing that would be shared wildly until counteracted by Snopes. However, Taiwanese undergraduate Lian Kao really has been blinded as a result of not changing her contact lenses.

The space between contact lenses and the eye is well suited to allowing microorganisms that don't like oxygen to breed, and worse still, feed on the cornea. Acanthamoeba represents the main threat, and in Kao's case six months of not removing her lenses gave it ample time to become established.


Centres for Disease Control. Acanthamoeba magnified

Acanthamoeba does not feed directly on human tissue. Instead it eats bacteria which live there. Bacterial infections became established on Kao's cornea, so the amoeba had plenty to eat and get a colony started. Then it burrowed into Kao's eyes to get at the bacteria living further in.

Acanthamoebic keratitis, as the condition is called, can occur from not disinfecting contact lenses. Lens cleaners have been recalled after potentially exposing wearers to Acanthamoeba infections through failure to disinfect properly.

While lenses that haven't been cleaned pose a risk, not taking them out at all is a far greater danger. Kao reportedly didn't remove her lenses for six months, not only sleeping in them but swimming as well. Since swimming pools often contain Acanthamoeba this greatly heightened her risk.


Dr Wu Jian-Liang, director of opthalmology at Wan Fang Hospital said, “A shortage of oxygen can destroy the surface of the epithelial tissue, creating tiny wounds into which the bacteria can easily infect, spreading to the rest of the eye and providing a perfect breeding ground.”

Corneal transplants can sometimes repair the damage, but success is mixed because it can be very difficult to get rid of the infection once it takes hold.

Acanthamoebic keratitis causes pain, eye redness and blurred vision. Surprisingly, the pain often does not become intense enough to cause people to seek help until the damage is already done.


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