The recalled eye drops are now linked to four deaths, the CDC reports

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Friday that the number of people with a highly drug-resistant bacterial infection linked to contaminated eye drops has reached 81.

The 81 cases, up from 68 identified in March, include 14 people who went blind and four others who had to have their eyeballs surgically removed.

Although most infections have been confined to the eye, the bacteria can be fatal when it enters the bloodstream. As of Monday, the CDC said, four people have died.

“This was a catastrophic and life-changing infection,” Maruya Spalding Walters, who leads the CDC’s antimicrobial resistance team, said in an interview.

Although many patients said they used multiple brands of eye drops, EzriCare Artificial Tears was found to be a popular brand among sufferers. Opened bottles of EzriCare eye drops have also been found to harbor the same bacteria found in samples taken from patients.

EzriCare products are manufactured by Global Pharma Healthcare in India and mostly sold online. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration have said people should stop using them, as well as two other eye products made by the same manufacturer: Delsam Pharma’s artificial tears and Delsam Pharma’s Artificial Eye Ointment.

The CDC expects the number of cases to rise, although the rate has slowed since Global Pharma recalled all three of those products in February.

The infection comes from a specific strain of Pseudomonas aeruginosa bacteria that has proven difficult, if not impossible in many cases, to control with standard antibiotics.

Prior to last year, this type of bacteria had not been reported in the United States.

Now, cases have been detected in 18 states: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, North Carolina, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin.

Initial infections started appearing last year.

The cases were first investigated in Connecticut early last summer. Doctors in Miami started seeing such infections late last summer. An Ohio woman became infected in November.

Some cases have occurred among groups of people who live in long-term care facilities, the CDC said, even among patients who have never used artificial tears.

Sometimes, bacteria can enter a person’s body through the eyes via eye drops but never affect the eyes.

These bacteria can then infiltrate the body, colonizing the respiratory or digestive tracts for months without making the person sick.

However, these bacteria can be transmitted to others through shared medical equipment, for example.

The Food and Drug Administration is also leading an investigation into the contaminated droplets. But the agency last updated on the matter on February 22.

The FDA did not respond to NBC News’ requests for a more recent update.

Both the CDC and FDA urged consumers to stop using any of the recalled products.

“Make sure these recalled products are still there, and not hiding on the shelf,” said Spalding-Walters. “Anytime a product is recalled, there is always the possibility that it will still be in homes and be used months or years down the road.”

Symptoms of an eye infection include:

  • Yellow, green, or clear eye discharge.
  • Eye pain or discomfort.
  • Eye or eyelid redness.
  • Feeling something in your eye (foreign body sensation).
  • Increased sensitivity to light.
  • blurry vision

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