Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Contact Lens: Cocaine Fungus Connection?

The Huffington Post

Quite few years back, I wrote an article about an American plan to eradicate Colombian cocaine crops by spraying them with fungus known as Fusarium Oxysporum, for a now-defunct online magazine called Feed. At the time, the objections raised to the plan were mainly environmental--there were concerns that the fungus could also kill food crops (such as tomatoes) and that it mutates very easily.

Colombia objected and blocked the plan.

So, when I saw the recent coverage of a fungal eye infection caused by Fusarium, which has infected over 100 contact-lens-wearers in 17 states, and blinded some of them, I figured it had to be a similarly-named bug that affects people, not plants. The infection has been tentatively linked to use of Renu contact-cleaning solution, which has now been pulled from the shelves.

However, from what I can tell from a quick read of the research, apparently, the same fungi that cause disease in plants can also cause disease in humans. And the FDA has apparently not revealed which fusarium fungus is involved in the eye infections, so for all we know right now, it could be the same one.

Which means that the government blithely proposed deliberately spreading a fungus that they knew might have direct human health effects. Rep. Souder and Rep. Dan Burton tried to re-introduce the plan again, as recently as last year. Whether or not this turns out to be the same type of fungus that is blinding contact-lens-wearers, I hope we are now smart enough to recognize that this is a really stupid idea.

**Correction: My Feed article looked at an even-wackier Florida plan to spray Fusarium on marijuana in Florida; it had also been proposed for cocaine in Colombia as the other link makes clear. It has been years since I wrote it!

By Maia Szalavitz


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