A Samoa pink eye epidemic has forced most schools to shut down for the remainder of the week and even caused flight disruptions as health officials try to quell an outbreak of the highly contagious condition.
Health officials believe that as much as 5 percent of the population in the United States territory have contracted pink eye, an ailment characterized by itchy, watery eyes. The outbreak has already affected close to 2,500 students and teachers and even caused some court hearings to be moved. Passengers affected by the disease have also been stopped from boarding flights.
The Samoan government had already shut down all 28 public schools last week for the Samoa pink eye outbreak, and though officials hoped to have them open by this week only four are back in session.
More than 30 percent of teachers are still out with the common eye condition, health officials said.
“In order to help prevent the further spread of the pink eye virus, we highly recommend that all affected teachers and workers stay home,” said Education Department Director Salu Hunkin-Finau. “Please keep your child out of reach (of) those that are affected by the pink eye.”
Officials characterized the Samoa pink eye outbreak as more of a nuisance than a danger, as the disease can be easily treated and usually goes away without causing any lasting damage.
Many television viewers remember Bob Costas and his famous bout with pink eye during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. The broadcaster was sidelined for much of the games as he battled the infection.
“It’s very rare for it to cause any serious damage to the eyes,” said Dr. Mark Durand, a health department physician. “And as far as we know, it’s never fatal.”
Health officials say the are having a difficult time gauging the size of the Samoa pink eye outbreak because most people who become infected don’t see a doctor.