Are contacts putting you at risk for infection by parasite?

by: George Marshalek Updated:

© 2016 Cox Media Group.

ATLANTA - A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report indicates that more than one million Georgians who wear contact lenses are likely putting themselves at greater risk for infection by a parasite that feeds on eyeballs.

Channel 2 Consumer Investigator Jim Strickland began researching the issue after hearing from a viewer only days before his infected eye would be surgically removed.

"I'm 57 years old, you know, and I never thought I'd end up at a point where I would have to lose an eye," said Oze McCallum, of Cobb County.

McCallum’s right eye was frosted and deformed, even after three previous surgeries.

He’s a victim of a tiny organism seen only with a powerful microscope. It's called an acanthameoba.

"Is it feeding?" asked Strickland.

"Oh yeah. It's alive. It's a parasite that's actually feeding on my eye," he replied. "I've cried over it and I've been angry over it. I've shaken my fist and said, 'Why is this happening to me?'"

McCallum is suffering from an infection called acanthamoeba keratitis. Doctors are convinced his contact lens was the parasite's welcome mat.

"Do a lot of contact lens wearers know this risk is out there?" Strickland asked Atlanta eye surgeon Barry Lee.

"Absolutely not," said Lee.

Lee reports an alarming increase is the number of acanthamoeba infections. He suspects too many patients are spending too much time wearing their lenses.

"Eyes were not made to have foreign bodies in them all the time,” Lee said.

CDC researcher Dr. Jennifer Cope published a stunning report in August which documents contact lens wearers' risky behavior.

Fifty percent of those surveyed said they'd slept overnight in their contacts. In addition, 85 percent have showered in them and 35 percent actually rinsed their lenses in common tap water.

"Even household tap water, although treated to be safe for drinking, is not sterile and contains microorganisms that can contaminate lens cases and contact lenses and cause eye infections," reads the report.

"Maybe my story can help somebody else not have to go through what I'm going through," said McCallum.

The CDC recommends proper contact lens handling practices, including "keeping all water away from contact lenses, discarding used disinfecting solution from the case and cleaning with fresh solution each day, and replacing their contact lens case every three months."