Acanthamoeba: A Review of Its Potential to Cause Keratitis, Current Lens Care Solution Disinfection Standards and Methodologies, and Strategies to Reduce Patient Risk

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The recent outbreaks of Acanthamoeba keratitis (AK), a rare but serious infection of the cornea, has increased the attention on the pathology of the organism and safety standards as they relate to soft contact lens (SCL) disinfection and solution formulations.


To review the pathologic potential of Acanthamoeba to produce keratitis in patients at risk, discuss the complex issues involved in Acanthamoeba SCL disinfection efficacy standards and testing methods, and present strategies for patients as well as governmental agencies to reduce the risk for future outbreaks of this organism.


Studies that investigated the pathology and occurrence of AK and the various methods for testing SCL disinfection products for efficacy against Acanthamoeba were reviewed and the results were summarized.


Acanthamoeba is a ubiquitous organism in nature and has pathogenic and nonpathogenic strains. Trophozoites—not cysts—bind to specific mannosylated proteins on the corneal surface abraded by SCL wear. These bound trophozoites produce a cytotoxic serine protease enzyme that destroys corneal integrity and provides the mechanism for Acanthamoeba to produce keratitis. To date, nowhere in the world are Acanthamoeba challenges included in product approval of SCL disinfection products. Nonstandardized microbiologic methods for SCL disinfection efficacy against Acanthamoeba continue to produce highly variable data from study to study. There are no detailed and standardized methods as yet for trophozoite cell culture, trophozoite-to-cyst conversion, product challenge with amoeba, neutralization of the test sample’s antimicrobial activity, and accurate quantification of viable survivor cells.


Reducing the incidence of AK is multifaceted and includes education of SCL wearers in the hygienic wear and care of their lenses, implementation of standardized and rigorous SCL solution disinfection requirements, and can also include improvements in the antimicrobial quality of municipal water supplies.

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