Health officials in the US Virgin Islands (UVI) are investigating an outbreak of epidemic keratoconjunctivitis (EKC) diagnosed at an ophthalmology practice in St. Thomas.

Conjunctivitis or pink eye
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Thirty probable cases have been reported and confirmatory testing is pending.

EKC is a highly contagious viral conjunctivitis that can cause corneal scarring. Conjunctivitis refers to the inflammation of the conjunctiva, which is a membrane that covers the sclera and inside of the eyelids. The inflammation results in a pink or red coloration of the eye hence the disease being commonly referred to as “pink eye”.

UVI health officials said in an alert Friday, EKC is very contagious and children should stay home from school until symptoms are gone or until cleared by a doctor.

Symptoms of EKC include a feeling that something is in the eye; redness, irritation and itchiness of the eyes; clear or yellow drainage that may make the eyelids stick together; swelling of the eyelids; sensitivity to light; blurred vision and eye pain.

Health officials offer the following suggestions to prevent the spread:  Avoid touching your eyes whenever possible. If you do touch your eyes, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and running water;  avoid touching other people unless your hands are freshly washed; avoid hugging or kissing with close face-to-face contact during an EKC outbreak; Dispose of or carefully wash items (hot water and detergent) that touch your eyes; do not share eye makeup or other items used on the eyes (towels, tissues, eye drops, eye medications); use a separate towel and face cloth for each member of the household; cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing and use disposable tissues to blow your nose, sneeze or cough.