A woman living in Essen in Antwerp province close to the Dutch border has lost an eye after being infested by a parasite in tap water, according to eye specialists from the Antwerp university hospital (UZA). Petra Van Kalmthout, aged 56, was infested by the acanthamoeba, a parasite which is present in sea, lake and tap water, but which rarely causes problems unless it happens to come in sustained contact with the eye.
The infestation is thought to have taken place three years ago, the victim told VRT radio. “Three years ago I went sailing and I had my contact lenses in,” she explained. “Afterwards I took a shower, and it seems that’s where things went wrong. Tap water came between by contact lens and my eye, and in the water was a parasite which is quite benign, except when it’s able to get into your eye.”
There then followed three years of problems, leading to a cornea transplant which ultimately failed. The eye was eventually removed, and replaced two weeks ago with a prosthetic eye.
“This is an unusual story,” said Professor Carina Koppen of UZA. “Usually we see contact lens wearers with bacterial infections, but if this parasite strikes, the patient suffers terrible pain that can last for years. Eye doctors often have trouble recognising the problem because it is so rare.” Only one or two cases a year in Belgium lead to the loss of an eye.
And she advisers lens wearers to take their lenses out when swimming and showering. “And you certainly should not rinse the lens container or the lenses themselves with tap water,” she warned.