SEP 28, 2017 3:06 PM PDT

A Parasite Burrowed into Woman's Cornea & Left Her Blind

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham

Image credit: Claire Wilkinson & PA Real Life

A decade-long eye infection left an Australian woman blind in her left eye.

According to the report, 38-year-old Claire Wilkinson of Brisbane, has been battling an eye infection for a little over 10 years. The ordeal started in February of 2007, when she experienced pain in her left eye about 30 minutes after putting in her contact lenses. The pain never really subsided and her sensitivity to light increased. She had to wear sunglasses and a towel over her head every time she went outside.

Wilkinson’s first diagnosis was conjunctivitis – a common but non-descript eye infection. But Wilkinson didn’t believe the diagnosis. “I knew it wasn't that. I knew conjunctivitis wasn't meant to be that painful,” she recalled. Her disbelief in the conjunctivitis strengthened when she reportedly felt something crawling across her left eye later that night.

Her intuition was right. A second visit to the doctor – this time, an eye specialist – revealed that her eye was infected with a the Acanthamoeba parasite. When this parasite gets into a person’s eye, it damages the cornea, which causes pain, redness, blurred vision, and light sensitivity – all the symptoms Wilkinson had experienced.

Acanthamoeba is a single-celled microbe that is typically found in soil and water all over the world. In the case of Claire Wilkinson, the parasite entered her eye through her contact lens, which wasn’t properly disinfected due to an ineffective contact lens solution. The contact lens solution was subsequently recalled over safety concerns, and Wilkinson did receive an out-of-court settlement.

Wilkinson was prescribed eye drops to kill the parasite, which had already burrowed through her cornea and eaten into her optic nerve. The drops intensified the pain and sensitivity in her left eye, but it seemed effective. That is, until the parasite resurfaced 10 months later. Wilkinson resumed the protocol to kill off the parasite, but despite absence of the organism in her eye, she still battled severe pain and discomfort.

“I've been through childbirth, I've dislocated my knee repeatedly – but this pain was 100 times what I experienced with both,” Wilkinson said. “I was in such agony I wanted to die. It felt like shards of glass were ripping through my eye.”

A corneal transplant failed, and a subsequent brain surgery to paralyze part of her face (to stop the pain) triggered a stroke. Wilkinson is still searching for a treatment that will cure her of the relentless pain caused by Acanthamoeba keratitis.

Of note, the CDC estimates that this disease is very rare and mainly affects contact-lens wearers. They estimate that one in 33 million contact lens users are affected. Reduce your risks by practicing safe hygiene when handling your contact lenses, and always change them out when you’re supposed to.

Additional sources: Live Science

About the Author
I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
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