Acanthamoeba keratitis is a rare, but serious vision threatening parasitic infection seen most often in contact lens wearers.
First recognised in 1973, Acanthamoeba are naturally occurring amoeba (tiny, one-celled animals) commonly found in water sources, such as tap water, well water, hot tubs, and soil and sewage systems. If these tiny parasites infect the eye, Acanthamoeba keratitis results.
The infection is linked to contact lens use. Poor contact lens hygiene or wearing contact lenses during swimming, hot tub use, or showering may increase the risk of Acanthamoeba entering the eye and causing a serious infection.
However it’s not just contact lens wearers who are at risk. Experts have also warned of an epidemic outbreak in the Australian Jungle!
The cast and crew of I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! have been warned they are at risk from the flesh-eating eye bug too. The sub-tropical rainforest south of Brisbane, where the ITV show is filmed is a hotbed of activity for Acanthamoeba keratitis.
Focus’ leading laser eye surgeon, Dr David Allamby clarified this. He said: “Acanthamoeba keratitis is an infection which can cause serious and life-changing consequences”
“It can also be excruciatingly painful. The cornea is one of the most sensitive organs in the human body, containing a high density of pain receptors.”
“The biggest risk of exposure to the organism is through water, and in turn poor hygiene.”
“The vast majority of cases involve contact lens wearers, particularly where lenses aren’t cleaned properly. But anyone nursing a corneal injury is susceptible to developing the infection.”
And it’s not good news for those involved with I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here!
“There has been a well-documented ‘cluster’ of cases in that precise area near Brisbane in recent years, which has had Australian surgeons extremely worried” Dr Allamby explains.
“With many of the show’s tasks based around water, and with the added risk of a participant scratching their eye, I’d heed caution,” he adds.
Recent research by the University of Queensland has found that incidents of the disease – also known as AK – has doubled over a 4 year period.
However it’s not just Australia. Dr Allamby confirms that stats also suggest an eight-fold increase in AK worldwide: “that’s essentially at what some would consider to be epidemic levels. And there’s a clear age profile for the most at risk,”
“Those who contract AK are typically aged between 21 and 30 and some studies have also found higher instances of female patients,” he adds.
The diagnosis of Acanthamoeba keratitis is often difficult to spot, and even harder to treat.
Dr Allamby explains: “When first diagnosed, anti-amoebic eye drops need to be taken on the hour, every hour for the first couple of days. For many, it could mean six months of treatment until recovery and many patients will require a corneal transplant to eradicate the organism entirely.”
“It is clear this year’s contestants don’t just have snakes and creepy crawlies to worry about.”