A surge in conjunctivitis cases raises concerns among the public in Gelephu

A rapid rise in conjunctivitis cases has sparked concerns in Gelephu, as the public battles to contain the rapid spread of the infection. The Gelephu Central Regional Referral Hospital (CRRH) reported an overwhelming 1,434 registered cases of conjunctivitis within just 9 days from 7 to 16 August. Health professionals are facing an overwhelming number of patients, with 280 cases recorded in a single day, and they are now sounding the alarm and urging residents to take precautions to curb the outbreak.

Conjunctivitis, which is commonly known as pink or red eyes, is caused by the adenovirus, but there are also a significant number of cases exhibiting a mix of bacterial and viral components.

The spread of conjunctivitis is not an exception to other dzongkhags. However, the major brunt of the spread is felt by the dzongkhags with relatively higher temperatures.

An Optometrist at Gelephu CRRH, Anita Kuikel, shed light on the situation, stating, “While conjunctivitis can be managed at home with cold compression and artificial tears for mild cases, it is crucial to seek help from a health professional if symptoms are severe.”

“Practicing proper hand hygiene and maintaining social distancing can significantly reduce the transmission of the infection,” the Optometrist added.

An Ophthalmologist at Gelephu CRRH, Dr Rajiv Mothey, provided insights into the nature of the outbreak. “We are seeing a high number of cases involving a mixed variety of viral and bacterial conjunctivitis,” Dr Mothey said, and further emphasized that symptoms can vary, individuals often experience redness, itching, discomfort, and increased sensitivity to light. In bacterial conjunctivitis, patients may also have white discharge, pain, and redness. Viral conjunctivitis, however, takes longer to heal compared to the bacterial form.

There is a viral and bacterial component that is usually active in summer in tropical areas, such as Gelephu, Phuentsholing, Samtse, and Samdrupjongkhar.

Dr Mothey shed light on the common misconceptions about the transmission, saying, “Contrary to the popular belief, the infection is not spread through mere eye contact. It primarily spreads through direct contact with an infected person.”

The schools bore the initial brunt of the conjunctivitis outbreak. The risk among school-going students is due to the lack of hand hygiene and rubbing of the eyes. Consequently, the infection rapidly filled the community, infiltrating offices, hospitals, and other public spaces.

Regarding treatment strategies, Dr Mothey outlined the usage of broad-spectrum antibiotics and topical drugs. In pediatric cases, milder eye drops are prescribed, while oral antibiotics were prescribed for severe presentations. Although symptoms typically subside within 72 hours, a comprehensive treatment spanning 7-10 days is recommended to mitigate recurrence risks.

Neglecting treatment could lead to severe complications, such as corneal scarring and potential blindness due to corneal melting.

Addressing long-term effects, Dr Mothey stated, “Untreated conjunctivitis can lead to corneal complications, such as scarring and even corneal melting. Although not all patients experience these effects, if left untreated and complications worsen, blindness becomes a potential risk.”

Regularly washing hands, avoiding the sharing of personal items, like towels and pillows, and promptly disposing of cleaning materials are key preventive measures.

The community with infected conjunctivitis is urged to cooperate in breaking the chain of transmission by adhering to the precautions.

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