May 12, 2006

Eye Doctors Avoiding Bausch Lens Solutions: Survey

CHICAGO -- An analyst survey of independent optometrists suggests that half of those polled are advising patients to avoid all of Bausch & Lomb Inc.'s ReNu contact lens solutions, Piper Jaffray said on Friday.

Bausch & Lomb last month recalled its ReNu with MoistureLoc brand of contact lens solution after a large percentage of patients with a rare but serious fungal infection were found to have used that product.

Shares of the eye products company have fallen 35 percent since the start of the year.

The Piper survey, conducted by analyst Steven Hamill, found the remaining half of those surveyed are only recommending that patients avoid the recalled ReNu with MoistureLoc brand.

However, of that group, one-third said they would not consider recommending older ReNu products, including Bausch's ReNu MultiPlus, because of confusion among patients and the ready supply of alternative solutions.

Bausch had worked to emphasize the safety of its ReNu MultiPlus brand, but Hamill said the survey indicates the current fungal infection outbreak has hurt the entire ReNu line.

The infection scare may be helping Bausch rival Alcon Inc., maker of the Opti-Free lens solution, which most optometrists named as their preferred brand.

It also appears to be leading some consumers to hold off on getting new contacts, with 7 percent of those surveyed reporting a drop-off in new contact lens fits in the wake of the fusarium outbreak, Hamill said.

Hamill mailed surveys to 500 independent optometrists; 194 responded.

Bausch was not immediately available for comment.

Fusarium keratitis is an infection of the cornea that can cause blindness and eye loss. According to U.S. health authorities, the vast majority of contact lens wearers who contracted the infection had used a Bausch product.

No clear link has been established between Bausch products and the Fusarium outbreak. Earlier this week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it is too soon to blame a particular product for the outbreak.

Shares of Bausch & Lomb were off 36 cents at $44.25 Friday on the New York Stock Exchange.