Stockholm: The biggest Swedish chain of optician stores said yesterday it had withdrawn a leading contact lens cleaning solution from sale after US authorities said it may be linked to a rare fungal infection that can lead to blindness.

Synsam pulled Bausch and Lomb's ReNu MoistureLoc multi-purpose solution from all its 150 stores in Sweden on Tuesday.

"Until we can confirm the solution is safe, it will be withdrawn from our stores," Gunnar Harbom, Synsam's managing director, told AFP.

The company made the move after Bausch and Lomb stopped shipping the product to stores in the United States on Tuesday.

In a health bulletin, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said it was investigating a rise in infections among wearers of soft contact lenses.

Bausch and Lomb had already stopped sales of its ReNu solutions in Hong Kong and Singapore.

The company said it had not stopped shipments of the solution to African, European or Middle Eastern markets as no cases of illness had been reported in these areas.

ReNu accounts for 25 per cent of Synsam's sales of contact lens solutions in Sweden, Harbom said.

Meanwhile, a report from Rochester, New York, said the lens producer has said the source of the spike in fungal infections remains a mystery. "As far as speculation about theories, there's a lot of them, we've run a lot of them to ground and come up with nothing," the company's chief executive, Ron Zarella, said in a conference call with analysts.

"Every additional test we've run suggests that the formulation is as safe and effective as anything on the market and in particular with regard to Fusarium."

Bausch & Lomb had already been grappling with accounting troubles in recent months, and Zarrella said the company was unlikely to meet an April 30 deadline to file its annual report for 2005.

Fusarium could cause blindness if untreated

Fusarium is commonly found in plant material and soil in tropical and subtropical regions. Without eye-drop treatment, which can last two to three months, the infection can scar the cornea and blind its victims.

Symptoms can include blurry vision, pain or redness, increased sensitivity to light and excessive discharge from the eye. It is not transmitted from person to person.