Archive for Thursday, November 16, 2006

Pinkeye outbreak hits school

November 16, 2006

Lansing school district nurses are urging families to practice thorough hand washing to quell a rash of pinkeye cases among students in the Lansing schools.

Lansing Elementary and Intermediate schools nurse Kathi LaMoe said the schools had encountered nearly 100 cases of the highly contagious eye infection, also known as conjunctivitis, since Oct. 4. Two of the cases were teachers.

"Hand washing is the main defense. Hygiene in this population is just paramount," LaMoe said.

She said pinkeye is a common occurrence among young children, who often share close quarters as well as toys and books with their classmates.

Common symptoms include redness of the eye and inner eyelid, itchiness, stinging, tearing and swollen eyelids.

Pinkeye also can produce eye discharge that may cause the eyelids to stick together, especially during sleep.

LaMoe said the schools sent a letter to parents of children in kindergarten through fifth grade on Nov. 3 with information about treating and preventing pinkeye.

She recommended parents not send their children to school if they display symptoms of the infection.

"We've sent home many kids. It has a very distinct look to it, and it's very communicable," she said, urging parents to call their physician if they notice the symptoms.

Viral and bacterial conjunctivitis may affect one or both eyes, LaMoe said, and the bacterial form is more contagious and requires treatment with antibiotics.

"You can't cure it with over-the-counter medications," she said.

School district policy requires those with conjunctivitis not to return to school until they've been treated with antibiotic eyedrops for at least 24 hours.

LaMoe said the symptoms often subside in three to five days among those treated with antibiotic eyedrops.

Because the infection is highly contagious, LaMoe added, family members should wash their hands often and avoid sharing washcloths, towels and pillowcases with one another.

Karen Savage, public information officer at the Leavenworth County Health Department, said the surge of pinkeye at Lansing schools was the only such recent spike she'd heard of in area schools.

Savage emphasized the importance of sanitizing "objects that are commonly touched," in households and schools, including doorknobs, blankets, telephones, tables and toys.

Lansing Middle and High schools nurse Sue Niederhofer said she knew of only six recent cases of conjunctivitis at the middle and high schools.

"We've had a few isolated cases, but nothing major. It's nothing like the poor elementary school is going through," she said.

Niederhofer said parents could help keep the infection under control by reinforcing good hygiene and watching for the symptoms.

"They play a big role in keeping it from spreading to other kids."


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