'Apollo' eye infection spreads fast

The highly contagious "Apollo" eye infection is rapidly spreading across the country as people are more exposed to viruses indoors during the winter, health authorities warned on Thursday.

The number of patients with acute hemorrhagic conjunctivitis surged nearly 65 per cent in the third week of December last year from the average number of patients reported during the four weeks before that, Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. The number of patients is also higher than the same period surveyed last year, it added.

"The highly contagious eye infection is rapidly spreading across the country, faster than the previous winter. Special caution is required for those (children) who participate in indoor camps during the winter vacation," an official said.

The disease was mostly found in children and office workers who tend to stay indoors most of the day, the state-run disease control agency said.

Children aged under 9 are the most vulnerable group for the eye infection, accounting for 27.8 per cent of patients reported in that week, followed by adults aged between 30 and 39 with 19.2 per cent.

Acute hemorrhagic conjunctivitis is also known as Apollo because it was first discovered in Ghana in 1969, the year US spaceship Apollo 11 landed on the moon. It was named Apollo because many believed that the disease was brought from space that year.

The viral eye infection causes inflammation of the outer covering of the eye and the inner eye areas. Patients experience red or pink, swollen eyes and pain and itching.

For patients, doctors usually prescribe eye drops that include antibacterials to deter further inflammation and infection. Patients are recommended to keep away from crowds to prevent the spread of the virus that causes the disease.

Tips to prevent the disease.

1. Wash your hands frequently with soap.

2. Avoid touching your face, particularly the eye area.

3. Don't share towels or personal hygiene kits with others.

4. See a doctor if your eyes are swollen, pink and itching.

5. Avoid rubbing the affected eye.

6. Rest for two weeks, minimize crowd exposure.

7. Children with an eye infection need to take some days off from day care centers, play rooms and schools