At least 2,400 students and teachers have been affected in a pink eye outbreak in American Samoa, according to The Associated Press, resulting in school closures for the group of islands in the South Pacific.
Pink eye, also known by conjunctivitis, can be caused by allergens, bacteria, or a virus, according to the Center for Disease Control’s website. The bacterial and viral forms are highly contagious and can be easily spread from person to person.
The outbreak has caused schools to close, courtroom hearings to be disrupted, and even passengers to not be allowed on flights. More than 30 percent of teachers are on sick leave due to conjunctivitis, said Education Department Director Salu Hunkin-Finau.
“In order to help prevent the further spread of the pink eye virus, we highly recommend that all affected teachers and workers stay home,” she told The Associated Press. “Please keep your child out of reach (of) those that are affected by the pink eye.”
Classic symptoms of pink eye include pink of red color in the whites of the eyes, discharge from the eyes, itchy or scratchy eyes, or a crusting of eyelids or eyelashes.
While highly contagious, pink eye is usually mild or easy to treat according to the Center for Disease Control. When it’s mild or easy to treat, pink eye will usually get better on its own. It only becomes necessary to see a healthcare professional if symptoms include moderate to severe pain in the eye, blurred vision or increased sensitivity to light, or symptoms that just do not improve over time.
Territory officials in American Samoa say the outbreak is a nuisance but not very dangerous.
“It's very rare for it to cause any serious damage to the eyes,” said Dr. Mark Durand, a health department physician, to The Associated Press. “And as far as we know, it's never fatal.”
In addition to schools, the pink eye outbreak has caused problems for flights and court hearings. Hawaiian Airlines, the only airline connecting American Samoa to the U.S., refused a handful of passengers who showed visible signs of pink eye. And hearings are postponed for a public defender that contracted pink eye.
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