A virulent strain of conjunctivitis known to ride piggyback on cold and flu is making many Calcuttans see red.
Ophthalmologists blame a new cerotype of the virus for the disease staying longer than usual this season, in some cases up to a couple of weeks.
Since late August, people suffering from conjunctivitis have accounted for about 10 per cent of the patients at eye hospitals and clinics across town. “Many of our patients have been found to have pharyngitis and fever along with conjunctivitis,” ophthalmologist Abhijit Sen told Metro.
Soumitra Dasmunshi has been under “house arrest” since Sunday with bloodshot, watery eyes accompanied by irritation that he had thought would go away in two days. “Nothing can be more frustrating than being forced to stay home with work piling up in office,” he complained.
Debshankar Sinha, a resident of Gariahat, has had fever and sore throat with conjunctivitis for the past five days. “The last time I had a conjunctivitis infection was several years ago and it went away on its own in three days,” he recalled.
Nimai Bhattacharya, professor and head of virology at the School of Tropical Medicine, said the trigger for a longer and stronger bout of conjunctivitis could be one of two things.
“It could be a new cerotype of adenovirus or an old strain that has returned after many years, in which case people would be less immune to it,” Bhattacharya explained.
Doctors at Priyamvada Birla Aravind Eye Hospital have been treating 25 to 30 people a day for conjunctivitis since the last week of August.
“The severity of the disease is more this time. There are inflammations and in some cases, membranes form on the conjunctiva,” said Jayangshu Sengupta, medical director at the hospital.
Eye specialist Sen has treated several patients with haemorrhagic spots on the conjunctiva, the lining on the inside of the eyelids that covers the sclera or the white part of the eye. Multiple ulcers form on the cornea in extreme cases.
The treatment includes administering steroids, depending on the severity of the infection. Antibiotics are sometimes prescribed to prevent secondary bacterial infections.
Doctors advise people with haemorrhagic spots to use cotton pads and change them every few hours.
“Conjunctivitis occurs round the year but the strain of virus causing it now seems to be a more potent one. The number of cases where the cornea has been affected is also higher compared to previous years,” said Arindam Deb, consultant ophthalmologist at the Susrut Eye Foundation and Research Centre’s Salt Lake unit.
The cornea being infected is a sign that the disease will linger. “After a week, the signs and symptoms change if the cornea is infected. Then the patient has severe pain in the eye and vision is blurred, which is temporary of course,” Deb said.
Many people catch the virus while taking a dip in a swimming pool that has not been properly disinfected. “A swimming pool should be chlorinated at least four times a day to disinfect it. One should wash eyes with drinking water after a swim,” a doctor said.