Video: Eye fungus a sore spot for company

msnbc.com news services
updated 4/12/2006 7:25:23 PM ET 2006-04-12T23:25:23

Walgreen Co., the largest U.S. drugstore chain, told its stores Wednesday to pull all ReNu products from its shelves, not just the MoistureLoc product that has come under fire, a spokesman said.

The eye-product maker Bausch & Lomb, which also makes contact lenses, ophthalmic drugs and vision-correction surgical instruments, halted U.S. shipments of its ReNu with MoistureLoc contact lens solution Monday night while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention investigates 109 reports of infection caused by a fungus called Fusarium in patients in 17 states.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world’s largest retailer, stopped selling ReNu with MoistureLoc “pending further test results from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” the company said in a statement. Wal-Mart said it would still sell other Bausch & Lomb ReNu products unaffected by the CDC investigation.

Supervalu Inc., which runs supermarkets such as Save-A-Lot and distributes products to other retailers, also said it would pull MoistureLoc products from its stores and distribution network pending the investigation.

Rite Aid Corp., the No. 3 U.S. drugstore chain, is also removing MoistureLoc products but continuing to sell other products in the ReNu line, a spokeswoman said.

“There’s a lot of customer confusion out there, which is why we decided to remove the entire ReNu line,” the Walgreen spokesman said. He said that Walgreen is continuing to sell other Bausch & Lomb products.

The source of a spike in dangerous fungal eye infections linked to the contact lens solution remains a mystery, Bausch & Lomb Inc. said Wednesday.

“As far as speculation about theories, there’s a lot of them, we’ve run a lot of them to ground and come up with nothing,” the company’s chief executive, Ron Zarella, said in a conference call with analysts.

“Every additional test we’ve run suggests that the formulation is as safe and effective as anything on the market and in particular with regard to Fusarium.”

The FDA has made no direct link between ReNu and the infections, traced back to June 2005, but a high incidence of the affected people had used the solution.

Blurry vision, pain
Fusarium is commonly found in plant material and soil in tropical and subtropical regions. Without eye-drop treatment, which can last two to three months, the infection can scar the cornea and blind its victims.

Symptoms can include blurry vision, pain or redness, increased sensitivity to light and excessive discharge from the eye. It is not transmitted from person to person.

In February, Bausch & Lomb stopped shipments of ReNu in Singapore and Hong Kong after a similar spike in fungal infections was reported in contact-lens wearers there. It is partnering with health authorities and researchers to investigate the extent and cause of the outbreak, which also surfaced in Malaysia.

More than 30 million Americans wear contact lenses, and the ReNu brand generated $45 million in U.S. sales last year.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report

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