The alarming rise of viral pink eye, also known as conjunctivitis, has become a major concern in Vietnam, India, and Pakistan. Over the past few months, high humidity conditions have provided the perfect environment for this highly contagious infection to spread rapidly. Health officials in these countries have been struggling to contain the outbreak, leading to emergency closures of tens of thousands of schools to prevent further transmission. In just a single day in Punjab, India, authorities recorded a staggering 13,000 new cases of pink eye, with over 86,000 cases reported for the entire month. Pakistan has seen nearly 400,000 cases nationwide, while Vietnam recorded more than 63,000 cases from January to September – a 15 percent increase compared to the previous year.
Viral conjunctivitis is highly contagious, with the ability to survive on surfaces for extended periods, up to 30 days. A simple touch of the eye with contaminated hands is all it takes for the infection to transmit. According to Isabelle Jalbert, an optometrist and vision scientist at the University of New South Wales in Australia, different types of viruses, including the COVID-19 virus, can cause viral conjunctivitis. However, the majority of cases, around 75 percent, are caused by adenovirus. The outbreak in Pakistan appears to involve a highly contagious strain of the virus.
Patients with conjunctivitis typically experience symptoms in one or both eyes, including redness, eye pain, swollen eyelids, blurred vision, sensitivity to light, and watery discharge. Unfortunately, there is no cure for pink eye, and patients must rely on their immune system to combat the virus, which can take two weeks or more. During this time, it is crucial to stay at home to prevent further community spread. In severe cases, chronic inflammation of the cornea can occur, leading to long-term vision problems. In Vietnam, hospital officials report that 20 percent of cases in children involve severe complications.
Recurrent outbreaks of conjunctivitis are experienced worldwide, often following a seasonal cycle. However, the impact of climate change on future outbreaks remains relatively unknown due to limited research in this area. Some studies suggest that elevated temperatures may increase the risk, while others indicate that low relative humidity combined with high temperatures can also contribute by causing dryness and irritation. Air pollution is likely to play a role as well.
In a rapidly changing world, governments must prepare themselves for viral outbreaks of conjunctivitis. Public education on symptoms and isolation protocols will be crucial moving forward. Following an outbreak in India in 2022 during heavy monsoons, experts called for improved disease awareness and extensive telephone-based healthcare services to assist rural and remote communities.
The epidemic of viral pink eye sweeping through Vietnam, India, and Pakistan demands urgent attention and action. Heightened efforts are needed to control the spread of this highly contagious infection. Authorities must take proactive measures in educating the public, implementing effective disease management strategies, and enhancing healthcare services to confront this global concern head-on. By working together, we can protect our communities and safeguard against future outbreaks of viral pink eye.