Pinkeye epidemic sweeps Vietnam

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It is the conjunctivitis season and hospitals are getting patients in droves

A doctor at the Ho Chi Minh City Eye Hospital examines a boy's eyes. Photo: Thanh Tung

Nguyen The Vinh was brought to the Ho Chi Minh City Eye Hospital by her mother Saturday afternoon, two days after he got conjunctivitis.

The eight-year-old, who was waiting for his turn to be examined along with some other 10 children, had red eyes and said there had been a lot of discharge from them.

"More than 10 other students in my class have pinkeye. So does my teacher."

But they are only a few of the thousands infected with pinkeye across the country, and the numbers have been surging since the beginning of this month.

Dr. Tran Hai Yen, deputy director of the HCMC Eye Hospital, said many people in the city have pinkeye now and the epidemic would last longer compared to past years.

The infection time varies between years, ranging from two or three days to up to 10 days or even longer, and this year this could also be prolonged, she said.

The number of pinkeye patients has been 30 percent higher than normal in the last few days, she said.

Figures from the HCMC Eye Hospital show that more than 50 people have come to the hospital with the infection every day since the start of this month, nearly twice the number in previous months.

The HCMC Medicine and Pharmacy University Hospital admits more than 20 pinkeye patients a day.

Several other places in the country have reported similar outbreaks.

In Hanoi, Dr. Hoang Minh Anh of the National Institute of Ophthalmology, said the hospital gets around 100 patients with pinkeye every day, several times higher than the number five or six weeks ago.

The patients are not only from the capital, but also from nearby provinces like Bac Ninh, Hai Duong, and Hung Yen.

Hospitals in the Mekong Delta city of Can Tho too get more than 100 cases on some days. The number of patients treated at the Can Tho Children's Hospital alone is 30-50 a day, three or four times higher than in previous months.

Pinkeye cases have also increased in central Vietnam but doctors said the epidemic is likely to relent in the next few weeks, Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper reported.

Cause, treatment and prevention

Doctors say a change from hot to humid weather, dusty environment, poor hygiene, and polluted water are among the causes for the spread of conjunctivitis.

Dr. Nguyen Hoang Cuong of the National Institute of Ophthalmology said the disease often peaks in September and October after rains, when the wet creates conducive conditions for the virus to proliferate.

The disease occurs every year but there are still cases of wrong drug use and side effects.

It is a benign disease but wrong treatment can cause corneal inflammation and ulcer and poorer vision, he said.

Patients must not self-medicate eye drops, especially those that contain corticosteroids used for inflammation, he said, warning that corticosteroids can worsen the disease and cause corneal inflammation and ulcer.

They should not use steam with drugs or herbs either since this can burn the cornea and prolong the disease, he added.

Dr. Hong Van Hiep, head of the HCMC Medicine and Pharmacy University Hospital's ophthalmology department, said sometimes pinkeye causes complications, even blindness.

When someone has symptoms like red eyes, swelling of the conjunctiva and eyelids, watering of the eyes, or excessive eye discharge after sleeping, they should go to the hospital, especially if relatives or colleagues have pinkeye, he said.

Parents should keep an eye on their children and prevent them from rubbing their eyes in case of itching since this can cause corneal ulceration or inflammation, he added.

Dr. Yen of the HCMC Eye Hospital said since the virus causing pinkeye (usually adenovirus) can be transmitted through the air and eye fluids from infected people, those who do not have the disease should not have close contact or share towels with the infected.

People with the condition should stay at home to prevent potential transmission to friends and colleagues, she said, adding that it is not advisable to go swimming at public pools when there is an epidemic.

Doctors advise people to wear sunglasses when going out under the sun and not touch their eyes with unwashed hands.

They said after a day at work or study or after going out people should use sodium chloride (NaCl) eye drops 0.9 percent to clean dirt, but have to wash their hands with soap before doing that.

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