“Flesh-Eating Bacteria” Eye Infection – You’re More At Risk Than You Know

Scientist looking at bacteriaThe shocking case of the 23-year-old Dallas mother who went blind in one eye after contracting “flesh-eating bacteria” has garnered a lot of media attention and
gone viral in the past week. The story seems so alarming because she was simply participating in a mud run. However, as heartbreaking as the story is, this type of eye damage is not uncommon. In fact, you may be at greater risk than you know.

“The term ‘flesh-eating bacteria,’ whether that’s appropriate or not in this case – that’s open to question,” said Dr. Faisal Haq, an ophthalmologist and cornea specialist with the Key-Whitman Eye Center in Dallas. “That term usually refers to a type of streptococcal infection, and streptococcus often lives around our eyelids. So, we see streptococcal eye infections a lot. In this case, was it related to the mud or was it just due to trauma? It’s hard to say.”

“Basically the epithelium, or the superficial skin layer of the cornea, can break down for many reasons. The culprit can be trauma, but it’s usually contact lens wear. Often people don’t take good care of their contacts, and they are very susceptible to infection from these types of bacteria. And it can be just as bad as what happened to this unfortunate woman.”

On June 22, Brittany Williams, who is not a patient of Dr. Haq or the Key-Whitman Eye Center, competed in a mud run with her fiancé. It is believed that debris may have cut her eye, which allowed bacteria to attack her cornea. Following the run, Williams began to experience “severe pain and vision loss in her left eye.” She went to the ER where
she was told that she had several abrasions on her cornea and what looked like a chemical burn.

“A corneal ulcer or an infection of the cornea will start off with symptoms of pain, redness, light sensitivity, and blurred vision,” said Dr. Haq. “Infections can progress very quickly if not treated aggressively. Within days they can cause can cause clouding of the cornea and even cause a hole to form in the cornea. As soon as patients have symptoms – especially if they’re contact lens wearers – it’s very important that they get looked at immediately.”

There is a chance Williams could regain vision in her left eye if she undergoes surgery. Currently, “her eye is neither healing nor regressing and her (potential) transplant will not take place until her eye is infection free and completely healed.” Williams has no insurance, so her family established a Go Fund Me page to help with the cost of her treatment.

“In the majority of those cases, the chances of irreversible, permanent blindness are quite low – but possible,” said Dr. Haq. “Generally, if someone does get an ulcer, we can control it with medications and it usually reverses with aggressive treatment. But if somebody doesn’t seek care in the appropriate amount of time and they get to us when it’s more advanced, then it’s an uphill battle and the damage has been done.”

  1. According to Dr. Haq, the best way to defend against bacterial infections and potential corneal ulcers is prevention. Fortunately, there are steps everybody can take to help keep their eyes healthy.
  2. Wear safety glasses when engaging in any activity that could cause eye trauma – this includes sports and home repair.
  3. Wear goggles when swimming. Getting a perfect pH level in a pool is very difficult, and imperfect pH levels equal bacteria in the pool. Also, take your contacts out before swimming to help prevent bacteria from becoming trapped in your eye.
  4. Speaking of contacts, follow proper hygiene and keep your lenses clean at all time. Missing even one cleaning is asking for trouble.
  5. Never sleep in your contacts. Even if the manufacturer says it’s okay, sleeping with contacts increases your risk for getting a corneal ulcer.

Remember, if you experience eye pain, redness, light sensitivity, or blurred vision go see an eye doctor as soon as possible. The quicker you get treatment for a bacterial infection of the cornea, the better your chances for a complete recovery.