a close-up of a silver tap with running water coming out

Acanthamoeba keratitis (AK) is a rare but devastating infection of the front of the eye which is most commonly caused by contact lenses contaminated with tap water. We’re funding a campaign to raise awareness of the dangers of using tap water to clean contact lenses.

The challenge

Acanthamoeba keratitis (AK) is an eye infection caused by a microscopic organism called acanthamoeba, which is commonly found in water, soil and even air. Around a quarter of patients with AK lose significant vision as a result.

Over 85% of cases occur in contact lens wearers, who are generally young and otherwise healthy individuals. Using tap water to clean contact lenses puts people at far greater risk of getting AK, but most people who wear contact lenses aren’t aware of that risk.

What is acanthamoeba keratitis (AK)?

Learn more

Acanthamoeba keratitis (AK) is an infection of the cornea, caused by a microscopic organism. It is very rare, extremely painful, and can cause permanent visual impairment or even blindness.

AK is usually found in bodies of water such as rivers, swimming pools. It can even be found in soil and air.

Little is known about this condition and it can be difficult to diagnose because many of the symptoms are similar to other microbial corneal infections.

85%

Around 85 per cent of AK cases are associated with contact lens wear

125

AK affects just 125 people per year in the UK

There are currently no licensed medicines to treat it. It is also particularly difficult to treat because it is resistant to many forms of therapy such as antibiotics.

Finding a solution

Building upon a case control study into the genetic and environmental risk factors for AK, researchers at Moorfields Eye Hospital together with patients with AK worked to encourage healthy contact lens use through a number of avenues including a social awareness publicity campaign. 

Videos from the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre at Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and UCL Institute of Ophthalmology also highlighted best practice for contact lens use. 

The potential

The campaign gained good traction. Heavy traffic from the optical media (including Contact Lens Spectrum in the US) prompted an article in a national newspaper and two primetime radio slots.

The campaign also reached a large number of people through Moorfields’ own digital channels.

The first two weeks of the campaign saw:

  • a 15% increase in page views of the Moorfields website
  • a 136% increase in YouTube views
  • 70 new Facebook likes
  • 60 new Twitter followers 
  • 21 new LinkedIn likes

Through continued engagement, the impact of a number of research and patient engagement activities has ensured that these successes continue to be built upon.

This includes publication of a patient information leaflet, patient focus and support group meetings and public awareness campaigns including a BBC news interview (April 2017) where a former Moorfields patient with AK continues to advocate greater awareness of the risks of AK.

Project Details

Funding scheme

Patient support

Grant holder

Dr Nicole Carnt

Research area(s)

Corneal disease | Education and training | Patient experience | Public/​patient engagement

Amount awarded

£4,537

Grant reference

GR000183-6