updated 5/9/2006 5:41:06 PM ET 2006-05-09T21:41:06

Nearly two-thirds of contact-lens wearers who contracted a potentially blinding fungal eye infection reported using Bausch & Lomb Inc.’s newest lens cleaner, health authorities said Tuesday.

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The eye-care products maker halted U.S. sales of its ReNu with MoistureLoc solution on April 10 after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it was investigating an outbreak of Fusarium keratitis infections in Americans using the product.

The number of confirmed cases of the rare fungal infection has edged up to 106 in recent days, the CDC said, but it reiterated that the origin remains a mystery. “It’s still too early to say what’s causing” the outbreak, CDC spokeswoman Christine Pearson said.

The CDC has verified that 93 out of 98 confirmed cases for which it has complete data involved contact lens users. Of those, 59 patients, or 63 percent, reported using MoistureLoc and 19 others, or 20 percent, said they used an older and more widely used Bausch & Lomb solution called ReNu MultiPlus.

Nine patients reported using an unspecified ReNu product, and seven said they used cleaners made by Alcon Inc. and Advanced Medical Optics Inc., the CDC said. In some cases, patients reporting using more than one type of lens cleaner.

In addition, the CDC has received 92 other reports of eye infections caused by Fusarium keratitis — of which 12 were “possible cases” and 80 were still under investigation.

Last Friday, the Atlanta-based agency said it had confirmed 102 cases and 56 involving contact-lens wearers, of which 32 people, or 57 percent, said they used MoistureLoc.

Test results awaited
A federal inspection of a Bausch & Lomb factory in Greenville, S.C., where MoistureLoc is made has not turned up evidence of contamination, but extensive microbiologic tests could take weeks to analyze.

Without eye-drop treatment, the infection can scar the cornea and blind its victims. At least eight patients have required cornea transplants. Because it’s not a disease that doctors must report, it is unclear how many cases occur annually.

Of the more than 30 million Americans who wear contact lenses, about 2.3 million of them use MoistureLoc and nearly 11 million use MultiPlus.

MoistureLoc first hit store shelves in late 2004 and contains new-generation moisturizing and disinfecting agents. It generated $45 million in U.S. sales last year.

Bausch & Lomb’s shares rose 16 cents to close at $44.84 on the New York Stock Exchange, at the low end of their 52-week range of $40.75 to $87.89.

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