Conjunctivitis: Keeping Safe

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Eye! by Fabio is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Over the last week, sunglass-clad students have become a common sight in the institute, indicative of the soaring number of conjunctivitis cases in the city. Usually, Chennai becomes associated with conjunctivitis or “Madras Eye” in the months during summer, but the change in weather, especially the recent stretch of rains, seems to be the primary cause of this spike of conjunctivitis cases. The name “Madras Eye” comes from the fact that Dr. Kirk Patrick discovered the adenovirus causing conjunctivitis in the nineteenth century, whilst working as superintendent in Madras’ Regional Institute of Ophthalmology.

At the institute hospital, the first instances of Conjunctivitis were reported right after Diwali, and the number of cases has increased by a good number over the past one week. “An estimated 100 to 150 cases have been reported at the institute hospital so far, with up to 15 to 20 new cases of varying severity everyday,” says a nurse at the hospital. With the end of the semester right around the corner, and the end-semester examinations scheduled to begin on November 19, it might be  wise to take a few precautions in the forthcoming weeks to reduce the risk of infection within the institute.

The typical symptoms experienced by a person contracting conjunctivitis are:

  1. Redness in the white part of the eye or the inner part of the eyelids (this is the first symptom, easily identifiable visually).

  2. Pain and irritation in the eye (a mild burning/itching sensation causing uneasiness, especially while blinking).

  3. Frequently watery eyes.

  4. A white discharge in the eyes (pus).

  5. Yellow-coloured deposit on the eyelashes especially after sleep.

Depending on the severity of the case, some or all of the symptoms may be experienced. The disease is transmitted easily through physical contact. A typical case lasts anywhere between 4 to 7 days, with the most severe phase lasting for a day or two. Contrary to popular belief, you can’t get it merely by looking an infected person in the eye — that is solely a superstition.

“Conjunctivitis is caused by an Adenovirus, and is self-limiting. It will run its course without external medication,” says Dr. Parvathi, who has been overseeing cases at the hospital. “An infected person can get relief within a week from the infection. But, I would advise the students to confine themselves to their rooms if they are infected, at least till the symptoms start reducing, to bring down the risk of the infection spreading,” she continues.

General precautions and cautionary guidelines:

  1. Frequent washing of hands: at least before every meal, and before entering your room in the hostel (use of a hand sanitizer is also recommended).

  2. Advice friends infected with conjunctivitis to stay inside the room, unless necessary.

  3. Avoid contact with the belongings of infected people, particularly cameras, sunglasses, pillows etc.

  4. Do not rub your eyes vigorously, and maintain minimal contact with the eyes. It is always a good practice to wash your hands before you clean them or come in contact with them.

If you contract the infection:

  1. Visit the hospital as soon as your eyes become red, and you have an itching sensation, which are usually the first indicators of conjunctivitis.

  2. Doctors have advised infected students to abstain from attending classes, lectures and other frequently populated areas like eateries (Gurunath or IRCTC) and especially the swimming pool, at least till there are marked signs of reduction.

  3. Take the antibiotics prescribed by the hospital to ward off bacteria that usually cause inflammation and secondary infections in the eye.

  4. Clean the pus carefully and patiently from the infected eye, especially in the morning. Have a separate towel/napkin for cleaning the infected eye. Doctors advice the use of cotton balls soaked in warm water.

  5. Do not rub the eye harshly, and avoid repeated touching of the infected part with your hands. If only one eye is infected, take steps to avoid any physical contact with it.

All students are advised to be wary of the current situation and take measures so that the spread of the infection is limited soon.

PS: The hospital wishes to express that they shall recommend and issue medical certificates for infected students so that their attendance in classes and lectures are not affected. They shall not entertain queries for the same to students who do not register their case or visit the hospital only well after their infection has been cured.

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