Presently, if you see a friend or colleague spotting a dark pair of glasses, it may not necessarily be for the sake of fashion, he/she probably has contracted conjunctivitis or apollo as it is popularly called. Michael Oche and Augustine Aminu write on the outbreak. ailment.
Most residents in and around Abuja have witnessed the outbreak of conjunctivitis in recent weeks. Known to be rampant during the harmattan or dry season, most of the recently affected residents may have been taken by surprise. Although most Nigerians still know conjunctivitis as apollo, only a few know the history behind the infection.
Due to the fact that Apollo 11 Moon Landing in 1969 was a world-wide event, most of the world watched the Apollo Moon Landing. So, when Acute hemorrhagic conjunctivitis suddenly emerged in Ghana, West Africa at the same time of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing, the eye condition was nicknamed “Apollo 11” Disease and up till date in West Africa, the disease is still referred to as apollo. The eye disease was first detected in Ghana in 1969 from where it spread worldwide, causing numerous epidemics
Presently, one will not be surprised to see a colleague or friend with red eyes. Therefore, it is common to see some people putting on dark glasses to cover their eyes. While some who use such dark glasses use it for the sake of fashion, others who have been infected with conjunctivitis use the glasses to cover the eyes, which are red and discharge watery substances.
Apollo as the lay man calls it, is not just an eye infection, it can have a serious effect on one’s eyes if not properly treated. Some people may refer to it as ‘pink eye’, but medically, the term is conjunctivitis.
Conjunctivitis is a common eye condition, which usually affects both eyes at the same time. Although, it may start in one eye and spread to the other after a day or two. Similarly, it may be asymmetrical, affecting one eye more than the other.
Conjunctivitis is an infection which affects both children and adults. Although this health condition may not be serious, it can be uncomfortable and irritating.
Conjunctivitis is one of the most common and treatable eye infections in children and adults. It is an inflammation of the conjunctiva, the tissue that lines the inside of the eyelid. This tissue helps keep the eyelid and eyeball moist.
Conjunctivitis can be caused by viruses and bacteria from substances such as shampoos, dirt, smoke, and especially, pool chlorine and allergens (substances that cause allergies). Pink eye caused by bacteria, viruses can spread easily from person to person, but it is not a serious health risk if diagnosed promptly.
According to optometrists, any person who is diagnosed with conjunctivitis should stay at home and keep away from work or school for about one week to recover so as to prevent spreading the virus to other people. If you live with a person who has acute hemorrhagic conjunctivitis or other types of viral conjunctivitis, avoid sharing towels, makeup, pillows and similar items with the person.
Some medical experts also advise that if your child has conjunctivitis, keep him or her home from school or day care until he or she is no longer contagious.
Spread of the infection:
According to experts, viral conjunctivitis can be transmitted from one person to another by casual contact, sharing of towels or pillow cases, facial contact or sharing of cosmetics. It can occur before, during, or after a cold or upper respiratory infection because the same virus, which causes cold can cause conjunctivitis. Viral conjunctivitis is very contagious in the first 10-12 days and may last up to two to three weeks.
Bacterial conjunctivitis like viral conjunctivitis, is contagious. Most people who develop bacterial conjunctivitis, also have other eye conditions such as dry eyes or inflammation of the eyelids.
There is a sexually transmitted type of conjunctivitis called chlamydial conjunctivitis, which often produces symptoms of long duration for about four weeks.
Medical experts say the most important precaution is to be extremely strict with hand washing. Always wash hands with soap and water before and after touching the eyes. Avoid any facial contact with others while you are having symptoms. Do not let others use your personal articles such as towels, pillows or cosmetics. If you are a contact lens wearer, you should not wear contact lenses while you have any symptoms. People who provide health care, food services or education should not work until their eyes feel and look normal because of the risk of spreading the infection.
Relating his experience regarding apollo, Samuel Ojo, a patient said his daughter came home and he noticed that her eye balls were red and due to the father-child relationship, he did not run away from her. Subsequently, got infected that way. “I did not believe that I was going to contract the infection by getting so close, but I have reasons to believe that I contracted it by looking at her eyes,” he said.
Ojo said, “I noticed that at the middle of the night, I was finding it difficult to open my eyes and as I tried to, I was getting some painful sensation in my eyes. That was how I got infected.”
Reacting to the spread of conjunctivitis, Isaiah Odubanjo, a public health practitioner said there are seasons like the harmattan or dry season when conjunctivitis can be contracted. These seasons are when people tend to come down with cold, cough and the likes because of dust.
He said, “Eventually, we exchange a lot of this fluid and secretions, which sometimes contain organisms and that means that if we have so many of those people around, then things like conjunctivitis can spread easily. There are seasons when some organisms seem to be more around and tend to be blown more with the dust around, just like we have the season for malaria, meningitis, cholera, among others. Thus, it is just the environmental situation.”
Speaking on how the infection spreads quickly, Odubanjo said, “It is not actually about looking at the eyes. It is more about contact and what happens is that when you have contact with such a person, thereafter, it might actually affect your eyes because the infected person would have transfered to you what he has in his eyes. When I say contact, there has to be a transmission of fluid from that person’s eyes to your own. Ordinarily, that not meant to happen, but if you are around and the person infected tends to be rubbing his eyes for instance, and you shook your hands with him, thereby putting your hands on your eyes thereafter, you might have taken his handkerchief and used it to clean your eyes or in an exchange. Just by merely starring at him, you are not going to get infected.”
Care and treatment of apollo
Speaking on his experience, Ojo said, “My initial reaction was to use my urine to wash my face, which I did because I knew that right from childhood. I became impatient when I did not get the expected positive result and that prompted me to use an eye drop that contains some antibiotics, but I was not relieved either. When I stopped using the eye drop medication and repeated use of handkerchief, I was relieved. I experienced that apollo infection for about five days.”
Conjunctivitis has resulted to a lot of problems including blindness if the right medication is not applied. For instance, when Aisha Usman (not real name) had conjunctivitis, she applied petrol on her eyes to see if it would cure the inflammation resulting from the infection. She did not know that petrol, an inflammable product coming in contact with her eyes would result to blindness. In another instance, a maid who had apollo applied onion to the eyes. Both eyes did not only swell severely, she did not see for five days after which she was relieved.
Nevertheless, there is a popular saying that prevention is better than cure. That is, for people who do not know what to use when they have conjunctivitis, it is advisable that they seek medical attention and stop self medication such as applying urine, early morning dew, onions, among others, in or on the infected eyes.
Conjunctivitis sometimes requires medical attention from a professional optometrist. The appropriate treatment depends on the actual cause of the condition. For the allergic type, cool water poured over the face with the head inclined downward constricts capillaries and artificial tears sometimes relieve some of the discomfort in the more milder cases.
While speaking on the use of petrol, Odubanjo said, “Yes, a person can become blind by using petrol to wash an eye that is infected with conjunctiva because petrol itself is inflammatory. The careless use of petrol can be destructive because petrol is an agent that can corrode a place and can also cause an inflammation. So, one should not use any of such things like petrol, urine and other harmful products to try to cure conjunctivitis.”
Talking about the cure, Odubanjo said, infected persons should do nothing, because over 60 per cent of conjunctivitis, whether it is viral or caused by bacteria would heal by itself within three to five days,
He also advised that an infected person can take some pills just to relieve the pain. “The patient can make use of recommended eye drops and wash with cool water to get some relief. However, on occasions when after about three days, the infected eyes have some pores or things coming out, the person might take some antibiotics,” said the public health physician.
He said, “Be careful with whatever you are using, including handkerchiefs, etc. He urged patients to make sure that they are constantly clean because if they use the same towel or handkerchief all through, they may find out that when they use it to clean the pores, they will take the pores again and put it into the other eye. Consequently, one can actually keep re-infecting onself, Odubanjo advised.
Symptoms of conjunctivitis include redness, discharge, burning, and sometimes, itching and light sensitivity. It can occur in one eye or both.
Highlighting some of the symptoms that one will see when infected with acute hemorrhagic conjunctivitis, an Optometrist, Silas Azubuike listed them as conjunctival congestion, eye redness, eye pain and irritation, swollen eyelids (edema), vascular dilatation, subconjunctival hemorrhage (bleeding in the eye), sensitivity to light and conjunctival petechiae (red patches with relatively normal surroundings) in one or both eyes. The mentioned symptoms can be also accompanied by low grade fever.
He advised that good hygiene practices be employed. He listed such practices as: Hand washing with soap and warm water; avoid touching and rubbing the affected eyes; avoid wearing eye cosmetic make-up; do not share eye make-up with anyone else; never wear another person’s contact lens; wash any discharge from your eyes twice a day, using a fresh cotton bud or paper towel. Afterward, discard the cotton bud and wash your hands with soap and warm water; do not use eye drops that were used for an infected eye in a non-infected one.
Conjunctivitis is most commonly caused by viral infection, but bacterial infections, allergies, other irritants and dryness are also common etiologies for its occurrence. Both bacterial and viral infections are contagious. Commonly, conjunctival infections are passed from person to person, but can also spread through contaminated objects or water.
The commonest cause of viral conjunctivitis is adenoviruses. Herpetic kerato conjunctivitis (caused by herpes simplex viruses) can be serious and requires treatment with acyclovir. Acute hemorrhagic conjunctivitis is a highly contagious disease caused by one of two enteroviruses, Enterovirus 70 and Coxsackievirus A24.
How to prevent spreading the infection
• Don’t touch or rub the infected eye(s).
• Wash your hands often with soap and warm water.
• Wash your bed linens, pillow cases and towels in hot water and detergent.
• Avoid wearing eye make-up.
• Don’t share eye make-up with anyone else.
• Never wear another person’s contact lens.
• Wear glasses instead of contact lenses. Throw away disposable lenses or be sure to clean extended wear lenses and all eyewear cases.
• Avoid sharing common articles such as unwashed towels, cups and glasses.
• Wash your hands after applying the eye drops or ointment to your eye or your child’s eye.