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Contact lens solution tied to fungus

Bausch & Lomb stock drops, shipments halt

ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- Shares of Bausch & Lomb Inc. tumbled 17 percent yesterday after the eye-care products maker halted shipments of a contact lens solution linked by federal officials to a rare fungal infection that can cause blindness.

Analysts cut their ratings, fearing the news could hurt sales of the company's other products. The stock dipped $9.83 to a 2.5-year low of $47.61 in afternoon trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

Bausch & Lomb, which also makes contact lenses, ophthalmic drugs, and vision-correction surgical instruments, said late Monday it is voluntarily suspending US shipments of its ReNu with MoistureLoc contact lens solution. But the company stopped short of pulling the brand from store shelves.

The fungus, called Fusarium, is commonly found in plant material and soil in tropical and subtropical regions. Without eye-drop treatment, which can last two to three months, the infection can scar the cornea and blind its victims.

Symptoms can include blurry vision, pain or redness, increased sensitivity to light, and discharge from the eye. It is not transmitted from person to person.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is investigating 109 reports of infection in patients in 17 states since June 2005. It has made no direct link between ReNu and the infections, but a high incidence of the affected people used the solution.

In February, Bausch & Lomb stopped shipments of ReNu in Singapore and Hong Kong after a similar spike in infections was reported in contact-lens wearers there. It is partnering with health authorities and researchers to investigate the extent and cause of the outbreak, which also surfaced in Malaysia.

More than 30 million Americans wear contact lenses. The ReNu brand generated $45 million in US sales last year.

Dr. Daniel Schultz, director of the FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health, said it is too early to determine if Bausch & Lomb's solution was the cause of the infections. Both the FDA and CDC are investigating.

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