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Update: Pink Eye epidemic causes schools to close

Because of the pink eye disease affecting many public school students and teachers, Education Department director Vaitinasa Dr. Salu Hunkin-Finau has decided to close all public schools for three days starting today.


Calling it an “outbreak of the pink eye virus in our public schools and offices”, Vaitinasa said that 22 (or 73%) of public schools have been affected. Additionally,  2,259 or 20% of students have been affected and are not in school.


Further, 130 teachers (15%) are on sick leave due to the virus, she said, adding that these are “alarming numbers of students and staff affected”.


Due to the outbreak in schools, the DOE director says “all sports and extra curricular activities will be suspended immediately” and that the high school speech festival slated for today will be rescheduled.


She said public schools will be closed today, Friday, as well as next Monday and Tuesday with schools to resume Wednesday, Apr. 9.


However, school administrators, staff and teachers “not affected by the pink eye virus are to report to work on these days,” Vaitinasa said.


“We ask all parents to keep their children home if affected. School personnel are to practice basic personal hygiene to contain further outbreak,” Vaitinasa said.


A parent who contacted Samoa News yesterday complained that her two kids — ages 8 & 10 — are now at home with pink eye that was picked up at the public school they attend. She said DOE should have closed schools last month when there were too many students and teachers faced with the disease.


When told about DOE school closure starting today, she replied, “That’s a little bit too late for my kids and probably other kids who contracted the disease from their schools. I went to my kids’ school last week suggesting that DOE close school for a couple of days because there were already too many students with pink eye.”


“As a parent it has been really frustrating dealing with school officials about this whole pink eye problem,” she said, adding that she heard the same thing from other parents who asked DOE to close down the schools for a number of days to prevent the further spread of pink eye.




For all Catholic schools on island, Catholic Education director Eddie Brown said the board and Bishop Peter Brown met yesterday morning about the pink eye virus, which is also affecting their schools.


Their decision is to close all Catholic schools today and Monday with classes to resume the following day, on Tuesday.


“The pink eye epidemic is moving quickly”, the director said, and pointed out that on Wednesday this week they had only 20-30% of students on the West side affected, with only 1-2% on the East side.


But as of yesterday, it was a third of the students on the East side and numbers for the West side were increasing. As of yesterday, he said, 20% of all teachers were out due to the pink eye.


At Manumalo Baptist School, a school official said late yesterday morning that their classes will be closed tomorrow and Monday, and on Monday they will decide whether to extend the school closure to the next day.


The officials said that they had to send over 200 students home last week due to the pink eye disease, but parents have been very cooperative in keeping home infected students.


Officials at Kanana Fou Elementary School said no decision has been made on school closure and no information was available yesterday afternoon from Kanana Fou High School and other private schools.


Samoa News suggests that parents contact their child’s respective school for more information.




Early last week, Department of Health’s Communicable Disease Surveillance nurse Sharmaine Mageo issued a health alert on pink eye, as there had been 30 cases reported from the hospital and health clinics.


She asked that patients of pink eye not try home remedies, but to come in to see the doctor to get treatment. Mageo urged the community to practice good hygiene, such as hand washing and general cleanliness.


However, Samoa News has received comments and emails from local residents, who say that they are not going to the hospital, but instead they are staying home and taking care of the pink eye themselves.


An ASG employee who asked not be identified by name, told Samoa News she didn’t want to wait in the long lines at the hospital, but decided to stay home along with two other members of her family, who earlier contracted the pink eye from other people.


According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) "Pink eye, also known as conjunctivitis, is one of the most common eye conditions in children and adults. It is an inflammation of the conjunctiva — the thin, clear tissue that lines the inside of the eyelid and the white part of the eyeball. This inflammation makes blood vessels more visible and gives the eye a pink or reddish color."


It  is very contagious and can spread quickly.


Symptoms include but are not limited to: redness; itchiness; a gritty feeling; a discharge that forms a crust during the night that may prevent your eyes from opening in the morning, and tearing. These symptoms can be in one or both eyes.


When Should I See a Doctor?


According to CDC, "Most cases of pink eye are mild and get better without treatment. However, some forms are more severe.


Severe cases need to be looked at by a health care provider and may require specific treatment and close follow-up. It can be caused by either a virus or a bacteria, and treatments are given according to the cause.


If you have pink eye, you should see your health care provider if you have:


            * Moderate to severe pain in your eye(s)


            * Blurred vision or increased sensitivity to light


            * Intense redness in the eye(s)


            * A weakened immune system, for example, from cancer treatment


            * Bacterial pink eye that does not improve after 24 hours of antibiotic use


            * Symptoms that get worse or don’t improve


            * Pre-existing eye conditions that may put you at risk for complications




Local officials believe the pink eye disease spread to the territory via people and relatives coming from Samoa, where there was an outbreak alert issued last month. Schools were also closed for a week last month in the independent country due to the outbreak.


Earlier this week, Rep. Puletuimalo Dick Koko told House members that the pink eye has spread territory-wide and the House must recommend to the Department of Health and LBJ Medical Center to find all avenues to prevent it from spreading further.


He said this needs to be done because a lot of visitors will be on island for the upcoming 2014 Flag Day celebration and he does not want our visitors to be affected.


In the Senate, it was Sen. Faletagoa’i Tuiolemotu who raised the issue saying that there were reports out of Samoa three weeks ago about the pink eye outbreak and this would have been the perfect time for DoH to start monitoring travelers from Samoa entering the territory.


However, he said, nothing was done, while many students missed school and employees missed work days. Further, he said there is also lack of public awareness on the pink eye outbreak.


Because the Fono is currently in a special session called by the Lolo administration, Senate President Gaoteote Tofau Palaie suggested the senator take this important issue directly to health officials. Gaoteote said the only issues which are discussed during the special session are those on the special session's call letter.


Samoa News records show that 2002 was the last pink eye epidemic in the territory and this was heading into the Thanksgiving holiday. Dr. Ernest Oo of LBJ told Samoa News at the time, that pink eye is self-limiting, meaning that it will usually cure itself if the person confines the disease. The best solution is to stay home and, most importantly, use general cleanliness, and wash hands often with soap and water.


The problem now, according to Dr. Oo, is epidemic — which means that if one contracts the disease, it will quickly spread through the community or through a specific institution.