‘Pink eye’ reported

Published 11:35 am Saturday, August 23, 2008

Rumors are flying almost as fast as conjunctivitis is known to spread.

Word of the disease, commonly known as “pink eye,” went from a “few calls,” to a “possible outbreak,” to asking the Minnesota Department of Health for assistance in only 48 hours this week.

Margene Gunderson, community health services director for Mower County, said Thursday she will speak to the MDH about how to respond to the pink eye rumors.

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On Wednesday, Gunderson said, “We have received some calls, and we are seeing more cases.”

On Thursday, she said plans for a press conference or public announcement were being made.

Because pink eye is not a reportable disease, public health has no way of tracking the outbreak other than incidental collection of case data.

However, the rapid escalation of Gunderson’s own reaction suggests the pink eye incidents are spreading.

The prospect for the restart of school classes in two weeks and the anticipated close interaction of adults and children also heightens the need for certain precautions.

Conjunctivitis is redness and inflammation of the membranes (conjuctiva) covering the whites of the eyes and the membranes on the inner part of the eyelids.

These membranes react to a wide range of bacteria, viruses, allergy-provoking agents, irritants and toxic agents, as well as to underlying diseases within the body.

Viral and bacterial forms of conjunctivitis are common in childhood, but they can occur in people of any age.

Overall however, there are many causes of pink eye. These can be classified as either infectious or noninfectious, according to medicinenet.com.

The leading cause of a red, inflamed eye is virus infection.

A number of different viruses can be responsible for the infection.

Viral pink eye symptoms are usually associated with more of a watery discharge that is not green or yellow in color.

Often, viral “cold-like” symptoms, such as sinus congestion and runny nose, are also present. The eyelids may be swollen. Sometimes looking at bright lights is painful. While viral pink eye may not require an antibiotic, those affected should see a doctor, as occasionally this form of pink eye can be associated with infection of the cornea (the clear portion of the front of the eyeball).

This infection must be correctly detected and treated. Viral pink eye is highly contagious. Viral pink eye usually resolves in seven to 10 days after symptoms appear, according to medicinenet.com.

Phil Bundy, a retired auto parts store owner, said he believes he contracted it after visiting a local eye clinic in Austin.

When he visited St. Marys Hospital, Rochester, doctors there verified he had contracted the viral infection.

“They diagnosed it as ‘EKS’ and the “E” stands for ‘epidemic,’ they told me,” Bundy said.

The doctors also told Bundy they were treating more patients from Austin who were diagnosed with pink eye.

“A fellow called me who said he went to the same place I did to try on glasses and got it, too,” Bundy said.

When Bundy contacted the eye clinic, they assured him they were taking precautions to prevent its spread.

According to Bundy, five to six people met at another eye clinic to talk about the apparent spread of pink eye. “They all had it, too,” Bundy said.

“It’s a very contagious thing and we have to take precautions,” he said. “It just doesn’t happen to only children. It happens to adults, too, and I’m one of them.”

Until Gunderson receives more information from the MDH, she said some “common sense” things can be done.

“Wash your hands or use a hand sanitizer, throw that tissue away after using it, avoid close contact… there are a lot of little things that can be done to avoid the spread of the disease,” Gunderson said.