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Tuesday 10 May 2016 | Published in Regional


TONGA – A conjunctivitis (pink eye) outbreak in Tongatapu, has seen hundreds of people flocking to Vaiola Hospital with confirmed symptoms of the virulent eye infection.

In the last five weeks the hospital has registered more cases of conjunctivitis than for the whole of 2015.

Conjunctivitis is a common eye infection that causes redness and inflammation of the thin layer of tissue that covers the front of the eye. Symptoms may include redness, itchiness, watery eyes, sticky yellow eye discharge. It is highly contagious.

Savelina Veamatahau, Vaiola Hospital’s Eye Practitioner, confirmed that on Monday she registered around 135 people who came into the hospital with conjunctivitis.

She said this disease can easily spread from the affected person to another person through direct contact by the secretion from the affected eyes, or through sharing things like a towel or pillow.

Most of the people who presented with symptoms had contracted with conjunctivitis from their families while some caught the ailment from co-workers, she said.

The first conjunctivitis cases for the year were reported at the hospital in March, with 44 people.

“This number spiked up to 367 in April alone,” she said.

Monday a week ago, the hospital registered more than 50 people with conjunctivitis.

“This number dropped to around 30 last Friday, and we thought it had declined, but this morning it went up again with more than 100 people turning up with conjunctivitis at the hospital,” she said.

Conjunctivitis caused by bacteria can be eliminated through personal hygiene like washing the discharge of eyes, washing face and hands with soap several times a day, avoid touching or rubbing the eye, avoid sharing towels, pillows or other things that have been used by the affected person.

The hospital prescribes eye-drops to help the patient recover faster.

Savelina said they confirmed the outbreak when they started getting the first cases in March and held public radio programmes to make people aware. This week, the Ministry of Health is expected to strengthen its public awareness with television public health programmes on the outbreak.

In 2015, the hospital registered just 400 conjunctivitis cases. - Matangi Tonga