Samoa Pink Eye Closes All Schools, Infects 2,500 Students, Teachers

Thursday, 10 Apr 2014 07:28 AM

By Nick Sanchez

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An outbreak of pink eye in American Samoa has prompted officials to close all public schools. More than 130 teachers and 2,300 students have contracted the infection.

"These are alarming numbers of students and staff affected," Salu Hunkin-Finau, director of the U.S. territory's Education Department, told The Associated Press. "We are giving our children and all our personnel the days as well as the weekend to take care of themselves and also protect others."

In total, 28 public schools will be closed from preschool through high school. Roughly 13,000 of the island's children are enrolled in public schools across the group of islands that lie halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand. Some private schools, including the six schools run by the Office of Catholic Education Service, are also closing at their own discretion.

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"In order to help prevent the further spread of the pink eye virus, we highly recommend that all affected teachers and workers stay home. Please keep your child out of reach of those that are affected by the pink eye."

The infection likely spread from nearby Samoa. The country saw a rash of outbreaks in late March, and closed many of its schools.

Pink eye — formally known as conjunctivitis — is commonly caused by a virus or bacteria, inflaming the outer tissue of the eyeball and inner tissue of the eyelid. "It's very rare for it to cause any serious damage to the eyes. And as far as we know, it's never fatal," said Dr. Mark Durand, a health department physician.

Some court hearings have also been postponed after a public defender came down with a case, and Hawaiian Airlines — the only airline connecting the islands with the U.S. — is also screening passengers.

Airline spokeswoman Ann Botticelli said they have temporarily refused "a handful" of passengers that showed signs of pink eye, and assured customers that, "All hard surfaces of our plane are cleaned with an antiviral solution and pillows and blankets are bagged and disposed of."

Most patients that contract pink eye do not see a doctor for the condition and recover on their own.

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