Samoa Pink Eye Outbreak Extends School Closings

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An outbreak of conjunctivitis, more commonly known as pink eye, has prompted the South Pacific U.S. unincorporated territory of American Samoa to keep most of its schools closed through the week. At least 2,400 students and teachers have contracted the highly contagious disease, which has also cancelled flights and interrupted court proceedings.

Conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the outermost layer of the eye and the inner surface of the eyelids called the conjunctiva, and is typically caused by a bacterial or viral infection, or an allergic reaction. Symptoms include red eye, swelling of conjunctiva and eye watering, though visual acuity isn't affected, and the pupils should be normally reactive.

Pink eye caused by an infection is typically associated with a virus, and both bacterial and viral infections are highly contagious and passed from person to person, but can also spread via contaminated objects or water. Viral conjunctivitis typically does not require any specific treatment, and topical antibiotics are prescribed in instances when an infection doesn't resolve itself within three days.

All 28 schools in American Samoa were scheduled to reopen Wednesday after closing Friday, but only four went back into session. Officials will keep schools on the main island of Tutuila closed until next week. Education Department Director Salu Hunkin-Finau commented that over 30 percent of educators are on sick leave due to pink eye.

"In order to help prevent the further spread of the pink eye virus, we highly recommend that all affected teachers and workers stay home," Hunkin-Finau said. "Please keep your child out of reach of those that are affected by the pink eye."

American Samoa, roughly the size of Washington, D.C., consists of 5 main islands and 2 coral atolls, situated west of the Cook Islands, north of Tonga, and some 300 miles south of Tokelau, a territory of New Zealand.

American Samoa is the southernmost territory of the U.S. and one of two U.S. territories, along with the uninhabited Jarvis Island, that lie south of the Equator. Tuna and tuna products are the main exports, and the main trading partner is the United States. The legendary mystery meat Spam is also a big deal in American Samoa, and has said to have contributed to the obesity problem in the Pacific Rim.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

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