NJ ophthalmologist reported first U.S. Fusarium case

For weeks, he was known publicly only as the "New Jersey ophthalmologist" who was anonymously credited with alerting the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) about an apparent rise in the number of Fusarium keratitis cases he had seen.

But over recent months, David S. Chu, MD, has been very public about the rare Fusarium keratitis cases he-and numerous other ophthalmologists around the world-identified this past winter and spring.

A soft-spoken man who normally stays out of the limelight, Dr. Chu doesn't boast a long list of publications or the pedigree of a Top 3 medical school. He doesn't belong to the New Jersey Academy of Ophthalmology (although he does belong to the American Academy of Ophthalmology), and is not well known in ophthalmology circles.

Dr. Chu, 36, now agrees to interview requests because he continues to be surprised by the number of optometrists and ophthalmologists who are unaware of the recent outbreak of Fusarium keratitis cases that were apparently tied to the use of Bausch & Lomb's ReNu with MoistureLoc contact lens solution (See the May 15, June 1, June 15, and July 1 issues of Ophthalmology Times, Page 1; also "Resident Insight" column, Pages 34 to 35 in this issue). Even after the company had announced it would withdraw the product from the market worldwide, he said, some referring physicians still do not know about the trend in contact lens-related fungal infections.

"I justify talking to the media to try to disseminate these words so [patients] can take better care of their eyes and try to prevent catastrophic infection," Dr. Chu said.

The assistant professor of ophthalmology, and co-director of the division of cornea and refractive surgery at the Institute of Ophthalmology and Visual Science, New Jersey Medical School-University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ), has been interviewed by several high-profile news organizations, including The New York Times and CNBC, about taking the initiative and informing the CDC of the apparent rise in Fusarium keratitis cases in the unusual setting of metropolitan New Jersey during the winter. Fusarium keratitis is more commonly found in warm, humid climates, and rarely among contact lens wearers. Before these cases, his hospital had encountered Fusarium keratitis only three times over the previous 3 years, he said.

Dr. Chu's "15 minutes of fame" began when he realized in February that the physicians in his Newark-based group treated four patients with culture-confirmed Fusarium keratitis since January. He noticed that all four had been contact-lens wearers, and recalled an e-mail he had received about a contact lens solution recall in Singapore. Internet research did not turn up much more information.

"These patients had some pretty nasty ulcers," he said. And, it turned out, all four had been using a ReNu brand of contact lens solution. "This cluster of cases was strange enough for me to start asking questions."

Alerting authorities

Several days later, Dr. Chu said he heard about similar cases among contact lens wearers in Hong Kong. After discussing the cases with a few colleagues, he called Bausch & Lomb's chief medical officer, Brian Levy, OD, MSC, on March 3 to report his concerns.