RSS Feed Print
Pink Eye — stopping the spread in close quarters
Posted: Wednesday, November 7, 2012 8:52 PM
Joined: 02/05/2008
Posts: 392

Communicable illnesses are a big problem — particularly when you live and work in quarters as close as they are on a yacht.  As a medical assistance provider, we get requests from our clients for information about common — and not so common — communicable illnesses with the hopes of reducing contagion amongst their crew. This week, the request came in when two crewmembers contracted pink eye; the captain called for advice.

Conjunctivitis, also known as pink eye or red eye, is easily spread from person to person. Strict attention to hygiene prevents infection and reduces the chances that an infected person will pass the illness to others. Being informed about conjunctivitis, its causes and treatment, is important for crew, particularly as they share close quarters when on board.

Pink eye occurs when the lining of the eyelids (conjunctiva) becomes inflamed. Both viruses and bacteria can cause the condition. It also can occur as a reaction to irritants or allergens. Conjunctivitis is a common illness. Patients usually make a full recovery with no long-term complications, however corneal involvement is extremely serious and requires prompt specialist attention.

A healthy person can contact the bacteria or virus causing pink by touching his or her eyes with an appendage or object that has been contaminated. The disease also can spread through contaminated water.

Viral conjunctivitis is self-limiting, which means it disappears on its own without treatment. Symptoms are usually mild. Eyes become red, itchy and watery. There may be a discharge and, occasionally, blurred vision. Some infected people become more sensitive to light. Symptoms disappear in about four days to a week. Cold compresses can help keep the person more comfortable. Conjunctivitis is sometimes associated with a cold or sore throat.

However, seek medical attention if symptoms persist or cause more than mild discomfort, eyes are very red and/or swollen, eyes feel gritty, like there is sand in them, or the person experiences light intolerance.

Should you experience any of the above symptoms, call your telemedicine service as soon as possible.  They could indicate a serious infection.  

Pink eye due to bacteria requires treatment with antibiotic eye drops or ointment. The condition takes one to two weeks to resolve.  During that time, people can pass the bacteria on to others. 

To avoid conjunctivitis, practice good hygiene habits; avoid close contact with anyone who is infected; wash your hands thoroughly and frequently; do not touch your eyes; ensure that only one person uses personal hygiene/grooming items such as washcloths or make-up.

If you wear contact lenses, remove them as regularly as needed. If you are around someone who has contracted conjunctivitis and have glasses, wear those in lieu of contacts. If you do contract it, do not wear contact lenses until all the signs and symptoms of the infection have resolved and for at least 24 hours after a course of antibiotic medication.

By Paulo M. Alves, MD. Dr. Alves, Vice President, Aviation and Maritime Health for MedAire;