Five patients who received cornea transplants have contracted a fungal infection from tissue donations supplied by the NSW Eye Bank.
The NSW Organ and Tissue Donation Service (OTDS) confirmed the five recipients of the pre-cut corneal tissue developed Candida Parapsilosis infections after their surgeries in April and May this year.
Health authorities do not know how the pre-cut corneal tissue was infected and are investigating and the Eye Bank has stopped producing pre-cut tissue.
Transplant ophthalmologists have been alerted and their patients are being closely monitored for symptoms of infection.
The first two cases are believed to be related, but the cause of the infection and link between the three other cases is not known, Lions NSW Eye Bank medical director Professor Gerard Sutton said.
"This is the first incident of infection from corneal tissue supplied by the NSW Eye Bank in its almost 50 years of providing corneas to surgeons," Professor Sutton said.
"The [Organ and Tissue Donation Service] is working closely with the Therapeutic Goods Administration and the NSW Ministry of Health to investigate, and is liaising with interstate eye banks to determine the [as yet] unknown cause which has only affected pre-cut corneal tissue.
"While this investigation is under way, the production of pre-cut tissue has been ceased; however the supply of other corneal tissue is continuing as usual for transplantation," Professor Sutton said. There has been only one other similar infection in Australia, reported in Victoria last year, he said.
Four of the five patients have had replacement transplants with no further problems. All five are expected to make a full recovery, though the infections have slowed their visual recovery, according to the OTDS.
A total of 99 patients were transplanted with pre-cut tissue during April and May, and no further infections have been reported to date.
Symptoms of the infection include redness and sensitivity to light.
Elective corneal transplantation is performed by ophthalmic surgeons at multiple NSW hospitals.
Surgeons advise patients that corneal tissue is not a sterile product and there is risk of disease transmission, Professor Sutton said.
The cornea is the transparent outermost layer of the eye. It contains no blood vessel to protect it against infection.
Corneas are the most commonly transplanted tissue worldwide. The transplant surgery removes the damaged tissue of the cornea and replaces it with healthy donor tissue.
It was unlikely more patients have contracted the infection given the time that has lapsed since the affected patients underwent their transplants, "but as the cause of the infection is unknown, we cannot be absolutely certain", an OTDS communications officer said.
Concerned corneal transplant recipients who may not be able to reach their surgeons can call the NSW Eye Bank on 02 9382 7855.