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Vet Ophthalmol. 2000;3(2-3):83-86.

Rose bengal positive epithelial microerosions as a manifestation of equine keratomycosis.

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Departments of Large and Small Animal Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida, 2015 SW 16 Ave, Gainesville, FL 32601-0126, USA.


Purpose To describe the clinical appearance of corneal epithelial cell microerosions associated with keratomycosis in the horse.


Retrospective clinical study.


Multifocal, punctate, superficial corneal opacities with positive rose bengal retention were noted in six horses with presumed 'viral keratitis'. Faint fluorescein staining was also present in three cases. Equine herpesvirus tissue culture inoculation was negative for a cytopathic effect in three cases. Aspergillus (n = 3), Curvularia (n = 1), and an unidentified fungus (n = 1) were cultured in five horses, and hyphae found on corneal cytology from the sixth. Mixed bacterial infections were present in three eyes. The eyes of two horses with Aspergillus progressed to deep melting corneal ulcers that required surgical therapy. The microerosions remained superficial, but persistent in the other four eyes. Natamycin was utilized topically in all six horses. Transmission electron microscopy from case 6 revealed mucin layer disruption, an intact corneal epithelial cell layer, and fungal attachment to degenerating epithelial cells. The visual outcome was positive in all six horses, although healing was prolonged (48.5 +/- 14.5 days on average in the horses with no surgery; 62 days on average in the two horses that required surgery).


Complete removal or full-thickness penetration of the corneal epithelial cell barrier may not be necessary to allow fungal adherence and initiation of keratomycosis in the horse. Prior to colonization and invasion of the horse cornea, fungi may induce changes in the mucin layer of the tear film that result in or are associated with rose bengal positive microerosions of the superficial corneal epithelium. Horses with painful eyes, and eyes with superficial, multifocal corneal opacities should have their corneas stained with both fluorescein and rose bengal as fungal microerosions may stain weakly, or not at all, with fluorescein, and may thus be mistaken for presumed 'viral keratitis' of the horse.

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