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More Avastin Eye Infections Reported

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Cancer drug Avastin (bevacizumab), which is sometimes used off label to treat the wet form of age-related macular degeneration and other ophthalmic diseases has been linked to more severe eye infections and blindness.

Avastin is cheap, only about $50 an injection versus $2,000 for Lucentis, another Genentech drug that is approved to treat wet age-related macular degeneration. As a result, Avastin has gained popularity as a Lucentis-alternative in elder communities where funds are notoriously tight. However, this raises the risk of bacterial contamination, as a larger Avastin vial must be divided into many small doses needed for the eye treatment.

Today, International Business Times reported that five more patients were blinded after receiving Avastin injections at the Los Angeles Veterans Affairs Medical Center, according to The New York Times.

Earlier this week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned that Avastin eye treatments had caused a number of very serious eye infections and blindness in Florida. In the those incidents, it seems a pharmacy in Hollywood, Florida repackaged the Avastin from its larger sterile injectable vials into smaller, individual single-use syringes. The pharmacy then distributed those syringes to clinics in the Miami area. So far, 12 people are known to have become infected with Streptococcus oralis bacteria.

Four more people in Tennessee suffered eye infections from the off label Avastin treatment. According to various media reports, those victims were treated at the Tennessee Valley Healthcare System, a part of the United States Department of Veterans Affairs. The bacteria-tainted Avastin shots were prepared in the pharmacy of the V.A. hospital in Nashville and were linked infections caused by Streptococcus viridans bacteria.

The International Business Times said that the FDA is not telling physicians not to use Avastin, only that they should be cautious about contamination issues, and to ensure that drugs are purchased from appropriate and reliable sources.

Some victims of the Avastin eye infections have filed lawsuits and more are expected.

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