Health advocates are wondering why there was a delay, as researchers continue to study the Canadian and U.S. outbreak of the dangerous eye condition Acanthamoeba Keratitis (AK), which has been linked to the AMO contact lens solution.
"Asleep at the Wheel"?
The Toronto Star reported that outlets of Shoppers Drug Mart, IDA, Pharma Plus, and Loblaws pharmacies continued to sell the Complete MoisturePlus solution after the Health Canada recall advisory, because they had not received a recall notice from manufacturer Advanced Medical Optics.
Katie Clark, a spokesperson for the Markham-based Canadian arm of manufacturer AMO, said the company was not able to instigate a recall until it confirmed the product sold here was the same as the one in the US, because it bears a slightly different name than the product marketed in the US.
"We conducted this voluntary recall in Canada in a very timely manner and in the fastest way possible," Clark said.
But on the heels of the Toronto Star's revelations, Health Canada spokesperson Renee Bergeron quickly assured Canadians that the agency had contacted AMO "to ensure that proper procedures were followed" in the recall. She also noted that Health Canada would take steps to "closely monitor the effectiveness of the firm's recall action."
"Health Canada felt it necessary to take decisive action in the face of the delay from the Canadian manufacturer," says an insider. "Unfortunately, at some of these [companies], there are so many people involved that they end up being asleep at the wheel when it comes to a major situation like [a recall]."
In her view, the statement was Health Canada's "polite way of telling the company: 'Hey, stay on your toes.'"
Outbreak Seen Across Canada
Outbreaks of AK have occurred across Canada. A University of B.C. sociology professor who had been using AMO solution visited several doctors before he learned from AK specialist Dr. Simon Holland that he had the disease. Professor Thomas Kemple suffered excruciating pain, and was eventually unable to see anything out of his right eye. He recently underwent corneal surgery.
"The whole right side of my head right through to the roots of my hair was in agony at different times," Kemple said. "It often felt like my eye was about to pop out."
Still, Kemple considers himself lucky. One of Dr. Holland's AK patients has lost an eye to the infection.
In St. John's, Ashley Greening, who used AMO, has been diagnosed with AK. It has cost her vision in her right eye. "I thought I had a minor eye infection. Four days later, I had no vision," Greening told CBC News. She is now waiting for a cornea transplant.
Canadian and US Experts Join Forces
READ MORE LEGAL NEWSCanadian doctors have been documenting the recent rise in the infection. Working closely with researchers at the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, Dr. Holland has seen a six-fold increase AK over the last five years, with the largest increase in cases recorded in Toronto.
Hundreds of cases have been reported across North American, and there is now an ongoing multi-agency investigation involving the FDA, the CDC, Health Canada, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, ophthalmologists and other health partners in Canada and the US.
"The investigation is far from over," reads a statement from the CDC.
What You Can Do
Health Canada warns that early diagnosis is essential for treating AK. If you experience any of the following symptoms, see your ophthalmologist: eye pain or redness; blurred vision; sensitivity to light; sensation of something in the eye; or excessive tearing.