Lab testing confirms link between eye drops and bacterial infection

The UKHSA has observed a reduction in Burkholderia cenocepacia cases following the recall of certain carbomer-containing lubricating eye drops

A laboratory worker in a white coat and blue disposable gloves uses a pipette to transfer liquid into a small glass jar. In the background there is a white bench with a yellow container holding a series of test tubes

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has reported that there is a laboratory-confirmed association between a bacterial infection and some carbomer-containing lubricating eye products.

In November 2023, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) recalled three brands of carbomer eye gel over concerns about a possible risk of infection following 20 cases of Burkholderia cenocepacia in the UK.

Healthcare practitioners, including optometrists, were advised to stop supplying certain eye gel brands. For certain high-risk groups, practitioners were advised to stop supplying any brand of carbomer eye gel as a precaution.

At the time of the recall, confirmatory testing investigating the link between the bacterial condition and lubricating eye drops had not been conclusive.

However, in response to a request from OT, a UKHSA update confirmed a link had been established.

The UKHSA has observed a reduction in cases following the recall of specific products and the issuing of a National Patient Safety Alert.

A UKHSA spokesperson confirmed that most individuals have not experienced illness as a result of Burkholderia cenocepacia.

“The investigation continues and UKHSA is working closely with stakeholders to monitor the situation and ensure protection of patients and the public,” the spokesperson shared.

Existing recommendations detailed in the National Patient Safety Alert remain in place – namely not supplying certain batches of AaCarb, Aacomer and Puroptics eye gel, and not supplying any brand of carbomer eye gel to high-risk groups. Full details of the recalled products are available online.

“UKHSA has recommended that all carbomer containing eye gels are avoided where possible in individuals with cystic fibrosis; patients being cared for in critical care settings (e.g. intensive care), or who are severely immunocompromised and in hospital, and for patients awaiting lung transplantation,” the MHRA has previously highlighted.

In December, the UKHSA confirmed that there were 32 cases of Burkholderia cenocepacia across England and Scotland, identified from 16 hospitals and in the community.

The cases were detected between January and November 2023, with the majority of cases occurring in October and November.

Of the 32 cases, 23 were critical care inpatients, two had cystic fibrosis and three were children under the age of nine months.