Acanthamoeba Ate my Eyeballs
A student lost sight in one eye after failing to remove her disposable contact lenses for six months. So how did tabloid journalists turn it into such a popular news story?
Roisin McGuigan |
Why did a case report of a patient with acanthamoeba keratitis become one of the most well-read stories on the world’s most-visited newspaper website, MailOnline? The patient, a 23-year old student from Taiwan, had worn a single pair of disposable contact lenses for six months straight, neglecting to clean them or to remove them before sleep or when bathing or swimming. The amoeba damaged her corneal epithelium, penetrated into the rest of the eye, causing irreparable damage, leading to the loss of one eye.
MailOnline quoted the director of ophthalmology at Taipei’s Wan Fang Hospital as saying, “Contact lens wearers are a high-risk group that can easily be exposed to eye diseases. A shortage of oxygen can destroy the surface of the epithelial tissue, creating tiny wounds into which the bacteria can easily infect, spreading to the rest of the eye and providing a perfect breeding ground. The girl should have thrown the contact lenses away after a month but instead she overused them and has now permanently damaged her corneas” (1). Eminently reasonable, and far from sensational. It was the headline that was sensational, rather than reasonable: Student goes blind after keeping her contact lenses in for six months and microscopic bug EATS her eyeballs. The article began with three summary bullet points. The second and third were a fair representation of the patient’s behavior, but the first was almost as sensational as the headline, reading “Single-cell amoeba ate away Taiwanese pupil Lian Kao’s sight”. The rest of the article was essentially a rather flat and fair report of the poor student’s plight (although “Medics were horrified when they removed the contact lenses to find that the surface of the girl’s eyes had literally been eaten by the amoeba that had been able to breed in the perfect conditions that existed between the contact lens and the eye”, was a great tabloid copy moment).
So what can we learn from this? Sensational headlines sell stories; unlike medical research, and there’s very little new in human-interest news.
- L. Watson, “Student goes blind after keeping her contact lenses in for six months and microscopic bug EATS her eyeballs”, MailOnline, published July 10, 2014. www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2687477/ Accessed July 20, 2014.