Epidemic keratoconjunctivitis is a highly contagious infection of the front surfaces of the eye. There is no specific treatment, and symptoms usually resolve in about two weeks. Hygienic practices are important to stop the infection spreading to others.
Epidemic keratoconjunctivitis (also sometimes referred to as viral keratoconjunctivitis) is a highly contagious viral infection of the eye. Symptoms can last up to two weeks or more. It is caused by adenoviruses and there is no specific treatment. Because they see lots of patients who may have infections, outbreaks are often associated with eye clinics. Bacteria, other viruses, allergies or chemical irritation can also cause types of conjunctivitis.
The symptoms of epidemic keratoconjunctivitis can commence in one or both eyes and include:
Occasionally, people may also get:
Epidemic keratoconjunctivitis is highly contagious and adenoviruses can live on surfaces for up to 30 days.
People get epidemic keratoconjunctivitis by coming into contact with tears or discharge from the eyes of an infected person and then touching their own eyes. This can happen by touching the hands of someone with the infection, or by touching contaminated surfaces or objects.
Usually the symptoms develop between 5 days and two weeks after exposure to an infected person or surface.
People are thought to be infectious from a day or two prior to the onset of symptoms until around 2 weeks after symptoms develop.
Anyone can get epidemic keratoconjunctivitis. It is easily spread between people.
Epidemic keratoconjunctivitis is a highly contagious disease and children should stay home from school until symptoms have resolved or until cleared by a doctor, whichever is earlier. It is usually OK to go to work, but follow the infection control measures outlined below. However, health care workers should be clear of infection prior to returning to work.
If you have epidemic keratoconjunctivitis:
Eye clinics must ensure that all reusable instruments that touch patient eyes, e.g. tonometers, are wiped clean and disinfected with either 5000ppm chlorine or 70% ethyl alcohol after each patient . Single use instruments are preferred for patients with a suspected eye infection.
During outbreaks clinics must ensure all staff thoroughly wash hands before and after each patient, try to see patients with infection in a different room to other patients, use only single-use eye drops, and ensure all surfaces touched by patients (including door knobs and handrails) are cleaned frequently with either 5000ppm chlorine or 70% ethyl alcohol. Any staff that develop infection must not attend work.
Epidemic keratoconjunctivitis is diagnosed by the signs and symptoms outlined above. Your doctor may also take a swab of your eyes to identify the responsible virus. A swab takes several days to return a result.
There is no treatment available for epidemic keratoconjunctivitis, and it will usually go away by itself in around two weeks (this can range from one to six weeks). Paracetamol, cold packs and cold showers have been found to be helpful for relieving symptoms. Specific treatment is available for the other forms of conjunctivitis (bacterial, allergic).
Epidemic keratoconjunctivitis is not a notifiable disease in NSW. However public health units can provide advice on the control of outbreaks.
For further information please call your local public health unit on 1300 066 055.