Conjunctivitis: Information for Health Professionals

Conjunctivitis is most commonly caused by viruses, bacteria, or allergens.  The determination can often be made by careful examination of patient signs and symptoms, and patient history.

Viral conjunctivitis:

  • Typically characterized by watery eye discharge; may or may not be accompanied by common cold or other upper respiratory tract infection symptoms
  • Laboratory testing is usually not needed.  However, if a more severe form of viral conjunctivitis (e.g. varicella-zoster virus) is suspected, viral testing may be done.  Contact your lab for information regarding specimen collection and transport
  • Offer comfort care measures such as cold compresses and artificial tears.  If suspect severe form of viral conjunctivitis, consider antiviral medication

Bacterial conjunctivitis:

  • Typically characterized by thick, purulent eye discharge; may or may not be accompanied by a bacterial ear or sinus infection
  • Laboratory testing is usually not needed.  However, if symptoms do not improve within 24 hours of topical antibiotic therapy, bacterial culture and sensitivity testing may be warranted.  Contact your lab for information regarding specimen collection and transport
  • Offer comfort care measures such as cold compresses and artificial tears.  Topical antibiotic therapy can help to shorten the illness and reduce the spread of infection to others

Allergic conjunctivitis:

  • Typically characterized by watery eye discharge with or without intense itching
  • Laboratory testing is not warranted
  • Offer comfort care measures such as cold compresses and specific allergy medications including certain eye drops. 

Infection Prevention:

Viral and bacterial conjunctivitis are highly contagious; assure that infection prevention measures are being practiced in your facility. 

Standard Precautions are required in the care of all patients at all times.

  • Hand hygiene:
    • Perform before and after all patient encounters, including instillation of eye medication
    • Use soap and warm water – rub for at least 15 seconds or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer and rub hands until dry
  • Personal protective equipment:
    • Gloves for contact with mucous membranes (including eyes), non-intact skin if the patient exhibits signs of infection, or when contact with blood or body fluids is possible
    • Mask and face shield or eye protection when splashing or spraying of blood or body fluids is possible

Conjunctivitis caused by allergens is not contagious; however, viral or bacterial conjunctivitis can easily spread from person to person.  Infected children should be allowed to remain in school once any indicated therapy is implemented, except when viral or bacterial conjunctivitis is accompanied by systemic signs of illness. However, infected students should refrain from attending school if their behavior is such that close contact with other students cannot be avoided (Red Book, 2012).  Adults diagnosed with infectious conjunctivitis should avoid close contact with others and should be instructed to perform frequent hand hygiene and avoid sharing personal items. A conjunctivitis fact sheet is available for patients: Conjunctivitis (“Pink Eye”) Fact Sheet.

If you have further questions or to report cases you can call the Minnesota Department of Health during normal business hours: 651-201-5414 or 1-877-676-5414.  Cases of conjunctivitis are not reportable unless a reportable disease is known to be the cause.

More about Conjunctivitis:

 

Updated Friday, April 18, 2014 at 12:11PM