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Woman believes public swimming pool left her blind after contracting flesh-eating parasite

A woman says she was left blind in one eye after swimming at a public pool where she thinks she contracted a flesh-eating parasite.

Shereen-Fay Griffin, 38, contracted the infection called acanthamoeba keratitis two days after swimming at a local pool.

The infection is caused by a microscopic organism called Acanthamoeba, which is common in nature and is usually found in bodies of water.

However, Griffin also washed her face at home in the morning and at night after going to the pool so the parasite may have also been in her mains water.

"My eye was sore, itchy and scratchy," Griffin says of her symptoms, which included soreness around the eye and fatigue.

"My eyelid was heavy and I was feeling fatigued. I had been swimming. I used the swimming pool and shower there. I had also washed my face at home in the morning and night."

Shereen-Fay Griffin lost her eyesight after contracting acanthamoeba keratitis from either a swimming pool or tap water. (SWNS)
Shereen-Fay Griffin lost her eyesight after contracting acanthamoeba keratitis from either a swimming pool or tap water. (SWNS)

Griffin made an appointment with her GP, who referred her to an optician, who then referred her to an ophthalmologist.

Griffin was initially treated with steroids and antibacterial eye drops as the doctor thought it may be a herpes simplex eye infection which is like a cold sore in the eye.

"I’ve never in my life even had a cold sore so it was odd to me," she says. "The ophthalmologist sent me off with antibiotic eye drops and steroids even though I told him oral antibiotics hadn’t worked.

"I had a continuous dull pain in my eye. It didn’t seem right but was manageable with day-to-day life."

However, the pain worsened in the coming weeks and in November last year - 10 weeks after visiting the ophthalmologist - Griffin woke up and couldn’t see through her left eye.

"It was coming up to 10 weeks of no follow-up appointment and steroids four times day when I woke up in the most excruciating pain and completely blind in that eye," she says.

Griffin says the parasite left her in 'excruciating pain'. (SWNS)
Griffin says the parasite left her in 'excruciating pain'. (SWNS)

After going to hospital a doctor diagnosed her with acanthamoeba keratitis. Griffin was treated but it was too late to save her sight.

Acanthamoeba keratitis is caused by a single-celled organism that enters the eye and eats through the cornea.

After going to a private hospital. Griffin was told that the steroids that she had been prescribed had only made the infection worse.

"I couldn’t trust the NHS doctors after this level of neglect," she adds. "They had wrongly diagnosed and wrongly medicated me for 10 weeks with no follow-up appointments even though I had been chasing them.

"The parasite was in fact strengthened by the steroids I had been put on for 10 weeks hence why I ended up waking up blind. It was explained to me by the doctors that this rare infection was very resistant [to treatment]. They said because mine had been strengthened with steroids for 10 weeks it was now super resistant."

Griffin, a Learning Support Assistant at a local secondary school, says the ordeal left her bed bound for four months due to the pain and off work for five months in total.

"I have no left vision which stops me from taking part in activities like football with my students," she says.

"I have dull ache, dryness, itches, soreness and still some light sensitivity as my pupil struggles to dilate because of the scars on the front of my eye. [I will regain my sight] only if I agree to a cornea transplant which may not work."

Young female competitive swimmers racing in outdoor pool overhead view
Acanthamoeba can be found in swimming pools and hot tubs among other things. (Getty Images)

A spokesperson for Moorfields Eye Hospital says that this type of infection is caused by a microscopic organism called Acanthamoeba.

"[Acanthamoeba] is common in nature and is usually found in bodies of water as well as domestic tap water, swimming pools, hot tubs, soil and air," they explain.

"It does not generally cause harm to humans, but they can cause a serious eye disease if they infect the cornea."

How to reduce risk of contracting acanthamoeba keratitis

While bathing in any public body of water such as pools or hot tubs can increase your risk, a report from Moorfields Eye Hospital says 85% of cases of acanthamoeba keratitis (AK) have been associated with wearing contact lenses.

"There are a number of different factors which are known to increase the risk of contracting AK. The biggest risk factor is exposure to water (generally through swimming or showering in contact lenses, rinsing or storing lenses in water and handling lenses with unwashed or wet hands)," the report says.

"Improper contact lens hygiene, including not disinfecting lenses properly and not cleaning and changing contact lens cases regularly have also been shown to increase the risk of infection. Those who do not wear contact lenses may still contract AK, although it has a much rarer incidence than in contact lens wear."

Side view medium shot a young male adult applying a contact lens looking in a vanity mirror wearing casual clothing.
Most cases of acanthamoeba keratitis (AK) have been associated with wearing contact lenses. (Getty Images)

It adds that AK incidences in the UK are generally higher than in other parts of the world "due to the way that UK domestic water is stored and supplied".

"Studies suggest that AK affects around 2 in 100,000 contact lens wearers per year in the UK, which is around 20 times less than the number of daily wear soft contact lens wearers with bacterial infections," the report adds.

AK is rare, but it’s best to wear goggles when you are swimming and to be careful about getting water in your eyes when you are washing your face.

Early symptoms of acanthamoeba keratitis include eye pain, eye redness, blurred vision, sensitivity to light, sensation of something in the eye and excessive tearing. If you are experiencing one or all of these symptoms, call 111 or go and see an optician who can refer you if needed.

Additional reporting by SWNS.

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