Transcript: CDC Telebriefing: Eye Health

Press Briefing Transcript

Thursday, November 13, 2014 at 12:30 p.m. E.T.

OPERATOR: Welcome, and thank you for standing by. At this time all participants are in a listen-only mode. During the question-and-answer session, please press star-one on your phone. Today’s conference is being recorded. If you have any objections, you may disconnect at this time. Now I’d like to turn today’s meeting to Benjamin Haynes. You may begin.

BENJAMIN HAYNES: Thank you, Rebecca. Good afternoon and thank you all for joining us for today’s briefing on Keratitis. We are joined today by Dr. Jennifer Cope, a medical epidemiologist in CDC’s National Center for Emerging Zoonotic and Infectious Diseases, who will provide opening remarks. Following those remarks, Dr. Cope will take your questions. I’d now like to turn it over to Dr. Cope. 

JENNIFER COPE: Thank you, and good afternoon. Thank you all for joining us today. To start off, I’d like to explain what Keratitis is, as kind of a technical medical term. So Keratitis is a problem with the cornea, which is a part of the eye. It’s the clear dome that covers the colored part of the eye. One kind of Keratitis is caused by germs invading the cornea. When treated quickly with the right medicines, most case of Keratitis can be cured relatively easily without any lasting damage. But depending on what kind of germ is causing the infection, how long people wait before they go to a doctor for treatment, and how long it takes to then get diagnosed, Keratitis can lead to scarring of the cornea and then even blindness. Here at CDC, we’ve long suspected that Keratitis pose a significant burden on Americans’ health and on our health care system. Both in individual cases and in periodic multistate outbreaks associated with contact lens wear. But until now we didn’t have any estimates of how large that burden might be. Today we’re presenting the first national estimates of the number of cases of Keratitis that occur each year in the United States. So for this study, we analyzed three large national data bases that house data from outpatient clinics and emergency rooms. We estimate that Americans make nearly one million health care visits for Keratitis annually. That includes about 930,000 visits to doctors’ offices and outpatient clinics, and 58,000 emergency room visits each year due to Keratitis. Women went to the doctor for these infections more than men. They accounted for 63 percent of doctor visits and 55 percent of E.R. visits. Keratitis affects all age group, from teens up to seniors. And cases are spread relatively evenly across all of these age groups. Let’s switch gears and just talk a moment about costs. Our studies found that the average doctor visit for Keratitis costs $151, and the average E.R. visit costs $587. Taken together, the nearly one million medical visits for Keratitis annually results in about $175 million in direct health care costs. And direct costs are those — the amount that individual and insurance companies pay out to doctors and medical facilities for their appointments and services. And that’s not including the indirect costs caused by these infections. These indirect costs can be really hard to measure, and these include loss of work or school time, out-of-pocket expenses for medicines, or even the cost of gas needed to drive to the multiple doctors’ appointments that are required. About 38 million Americans wear contacts. And contact lenses have many benefits. Lots of people choose to wear them for comfort or to avoid the hassle of glasses, but wearing contacts and not taking care of them properly is the single largest risk factor for Keratitis. Some bad habits like sleeping in your contact lenses, failing to clean and replace your storage case frequently, and letting contact lens gets in water, whether that’s through swimming, showering, or rinsing the lenses in water instead of contact lens solution, greatly increase a person’s risk for developing Keratitis. It’s important that people wash their hands with soap and water each time before touching their contact lenses to avoid introducing germ into their lenses, cases, or their eyes. Other important tips for keeping your eyes healthy are emptying the contact lens case and refilling it with new disinfecting solution every day. Never just top it off. Replacing contact lens cases every three months and never sleeping in your contact lenses unless directed to by an eye care provider.  People who wear contact lenses overnight are more than 20 times more likely to get Keratitis, so that can pose a very real risk. It’s also always a good idea to be prepared and carry a backup pair of glasses in case a contact lens falls out or needs to be taken out for any other reason. We now it can be tempting to take shortcuts in our busy lives, especially for contact lens wearers who are in a rush or away from home and normal routines. It’s important that wearers follow good hygiene and care steps every time they wear, clean, and store their contacts to keep — help keep their eyes healthy. Next week, CDC will be marking the first annual contact lens health week. To celebrate the week, we developed a healthy eyes campaign in collaboration with doctors, other public health officials, the eye care industry, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration which regulates contact lenses and contact lens products. We’ve rolled out a variety of informational material that illustrate the best ways to wear and care for contact lenses in hopes of decreasing the number of cases of Keratitis in the United States. You can find the materials on our new contact lens health website, Before I close, I’d like to just reiterate that contact lenses offer many benefits, but they’re not risk-free. Keratitis can be a scary infection, but it is preventable if people follow healthy habits and take care of their eyes and their lenses. Healthy habits make healthy eyes.  Thanks again for joining us today, and now we’ll open up the call to any questions you might have. 

OPERATOR: Thank you. We’ll begin the question-and-answer session. If you’d like to ask a question now, please press star-one. Please remember to unmute your phone and say your name clearly. I’ll introduce you by name. To withdraw a request, you can press star-two. We’ll wait just a moment for questions. Again, that’s star-one. Our first question comes from Ryan Lang with ABC News.  Your line is open. 

RYAN LANG: Hi, thank you so much. I was wanting to ask a question in regards to the complications regarding Keratitis. You did mention the risk of partial and complete blindness related to the disorder. I was wondering if you had further information as to the number or proportion of patients diagnosed with Keratitis  who actually do have blindness as a complication, and also if you had any other information about potential other complications from Keratitis . 

JENNIFER COPE: So you’re asking if — what proportion have the severe complications from Keratitis? 

RYAN LANG: Yes. What proportion of those diagnosed with Keratitis would then have blindness, either partial or complete, if that information is available? And then what are the other complications that are inherent in patients who are diagnosed with Keratitis? 

JENNIFER COPE: So I mean, the data from our paper were not able to what proportion have those most severe complications. And what I can say is, you know, Keratitis is a spectrum of disease. And so obviously we point out some of the most severe complications being blindness and reduced vision. But it’s the spectrum of disease that ranges from simple irritation and redness of the eyes all the way to blindness, as we’ve mentioned. And with, you know, with proper treatment and early diagnosis, these complications can likely be reduced, and ultimately practicing healthy habits with contact lenses, hopefully we can prevent most of these infections. 

RYAN LANG: Okay, thank you. 

BENJAMIN HAYNES: Question, please, Rebecca. 

OPERATOR: We have another question, Deborah Kotz with The Boston Globe. Your line is open.

DEBORAH KOTZ: Thanks for taking my question. Wanted to know if there are warning signs people should be aware of. You said there is sometimes delay in getting diagnosed and going to the doctor. Are there specific warning signs that they should be aware of? And also, are there ways that doctors test to rule out other causes of these symptoms, ways that they can ascertain that this is, indeed, an infection and whether it’s bacterial or viral and how to treat it? 

JENNIFER COPE: So Keratitis presents — the symptoms are a lot like a lot of other types of eye infections. The redness, irritation, perhaps some drainage. One of the things that might indicate that it’s a more serious infection like Keratitis would be eye pain. You know, eye pain that’s out of proportion to what is being, you know, seen in the eye at the time. And so we’re encouraging patients who suffer any of these symptoms that don’t improve right away on their own or even don’t improve after getting perhaps an antibiotic drop to try to treat it should be seen for — you know, should see their eye care provider and perhaps be seen by an ophthalmologist to ensure it’s not more serious than Keratitis. 

BENJAMIN HAYNES: Rebecca, we have time for one more question. 

OPERATOR: Showing no further questions. I’m showing no further questions. 

BENJAMIN HAYNES:  If there are no further questions, I’d like to thank you all for joining us. This is going to conclude our telebriefing. A transcript will be available at If you have additional questions, you can call the main media line at 404-639-3286. Thank you.


Page last reviewed: November 13, 2014