Eye drop product may be tied to cluster of drug-resistant bacterial infections, CDC says

illustration of a bacterial cell, resmembling the fuzzy top of a cattail with thin filaments extending from one end
Federal health officials are investigating a cluster of drug-resistant bacterial infections. (Image credit: KATERYNA KON/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY via Getty Images)

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has advised doctors and consumers to "immediately discontinue" the use of EzriCare Artificial Tears, as the eye drops may be linked to a multistate cluster of serious bacterial infections, the agency announced Jan. 20. 

The CDC, with help from state and local health departments, has identified 50 patients in 11 states who had recently been infected with the bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa and the agency recently uncovered evidence that these infections may be linked to the use of EzriCare Artificial Tears. The infections took place between May and December 2022. 

"Patient outcomes include permanent vision loss resulting from ocular [eye] infection, hospitalization, and death of one patient with bloodstream infection," the CDC statement reads.

P. aeruginosa lives in the environment, in soil and water, and poses the highest risk of infection to hospitalized people, especially those who use breathing machines or catheters and those with wounds from surgery or burns, according to the CDC. If exposed to soil or water contaminated with the bacteria, patients can develop severe blood or lung infections. 

Related: New discovery could help take down drug-resistant bacteria 

These infections are treated with antibiotics, but unfortunately, some strains of P. aeruginosa have evolved resistance to the drugs; these drug-resistant germs make enzymes called carbapenemases that break down antibiotics, according to the CDC. The strain of P. aeruginosa linked to the multistate outbreak produces such enzymes and shows resistance to several antibiotics, including carbapenem, a drug often reserved to treat severe, multidrug-resistant bacterial infections.

"Review of common exposures among patients identified that the majority of patients used artificial tears" prior to becoming infected, the CDC statement reads. "The most common brand reported was EzriCare Artificial Tears." The agency tested open bottles of the eye drops and found evidence of the drug-resistant bacteria; scientists are now seeing if the identified germ matches the outbreak strain, and they're also checking unopened bottles of EzriCare Artificial Tears for signs of contamination.

"CDC recommends that clinicians and patients immediately discontinue the use of EzriCare Artificial Tears until the epidemiological investigation and laboratory analyses are complete," the agency said.

On Jan. 24, EzriCare issued a statement acknowledging the CDC's investigation and noting that the company had "received no consumer complaints or adverse event report related to the investigation." The company also stated that it hasn't received communication from any regulatory agency or been asked to conduct a recall.

"NEVERTHELESS, and in an abundance of caution, EzriCare recommends that during this evolving situation you DISCONTINUE USE of any portions of EzriCare Artificial Tears Lubricant Eye Drops you may have until we can discover more details about any potential safety concerns," the company concluded. 

Nicoletta Lanese
Channel Editor, Health

Nicoletta Lanese is the health channel editor at Live Science and was previously a news editor and staff writer at the site. She holds a graduate certificate in science communication from UC Santa Cruz and degrees in neuroscience and dance from the University of Florida. Her work has appeared in The Scientist, Science News, the Mercury News, Mongabay and Stanford Medicine Magazine, among other outlets. Based in NYC, she also remains heavily involved in dance and performs in local choreographers' work.