An epidemic of viral pink eye, or conjunctivitis, has swept through Vietnam, India, and Pakistan, leaving hundreds of thousands afflicted. The highly contagious pathogen thrives in high humidity, making it difficult for health officials to contain its spread. This article delves into the severity of the situation and highlights the challenges faced by these countries in combating the outbreak.
As summer heatwaves and record rainfall persisted, the contagion grew stronger. In a desperate attempt to halt the virus, tens of thousands of schools in Vietnam, India, and Pakistan underwent temporary closures in September. The Caretaker Chief Minister of Punjab, Mohsin Naqvi, revealed that every classroom in the region had at least five to six affected students. The numbers were alarming, with over 86,000 cases recorded in the city throughout the month.
Pakistan has been hit the hardest, with almost 400,000 individuals affected nationwide. Vietnam, too, experienced a significant increase, reporting over 63,000 cases of viral conjunctivitis from January to September, a rise of more than 15 percent compared to the previous year. Although pink eye can be caused by both bacteria and viruses, the viral variant is highly contagious, capable of surviving on surfaces for up to 30 days. A simple rub of the eye with a contaminated hand is enough to spread the virus.
Isabelle Jalbert, an optometrist and vision scientist at the University of New South Wales, explains that numerous types of viruses, including the COVID-19 virus, can cause viral conjunctivitis. However, adenovirus is responsible for up to 75 percent of infectious cases. The outbreak in Pakistan is believed to involve a highly contagious strain of the virus.
Patients with conjunctivitis typically present with redness, eye pain, swollen eyelids, blurred vision, sensitivity to light, and watery discharge. Hand washing and disinfecting surfaces are essential preventive measures, but there is currently no cure for pink eye. Patients must endure the virus for two weeks or longer until their immune system successfully fights it off. Staying home during this period is crucial to prevent wider community spread. In severe cases, chronic inflammation of the cornea can occur, leading to long-term vision problems. Disturbingly, 20 percent of the cases seen in children in Vietnam involve severe complications.
While recurrent conjunctivitis epidemics are experienced all over the world, the seasonal nature of the illness suggests that future outbreaks may be influenced by climate changes. However, research in this area is sorely lacking. A few studies have shown that elevated temperatures increase the risk of local conjunctivitis cases. In 2023, research conducted in China discovered a correlation between elevated humidity and outpatient visits for conjunctivitis.
In a rapidly changing world, it is crucial for governments to be prepared for viral outbreaks such as conjunctivitis. Educating the public about the symptoms to watch for and promoting effective isolation practices are vital strategies going forward. Following an outbreak in India in 2022 during heavy monsoons, experts emphasized the need for improved disease awareness and extensive telephone-based healthcare services in rural and remote communities.
The viral pink eye epidemic across Vietnam, India, and Pakistan poses a significant health challenge. The highly contagious nature of the virus, combined with factors such as high humidity, adds to the difficulty of containing its spread. Understanding the symptoms, practicing proper hygiene, and raising public awareness are essential steps in combating this growing epidemic. Governments must also remain vigilant and establish effective strategies to address future viral outbreaks of conjunctivitis.