Can conjunctivitis be prevented?
Preventing contagious forms of conjunctivitis (viral and bacterial):
- A person with conjunctivitis can prevent transmission by: Washing their hands thoroughly with soap and warm water (before and after cleaning the affected eye/s, applying drops or ointment, or handling food); using alcohol-based hand sanitisers (when water and soap are not available); avoiding rubbing or touching the eyes, nose or mouth; cleansing discharge from the eyes several times a day (using clean washcloths or new cotton wool balls and disposing of these in a sanitary manner as certain bacteria and germs may live for up to 72 hours on these types of things); washing bed linen (sheets, pillowcases etc), as well as towels and washcloths in hot water with detergent; cleaning surfaces daily (such as bathroom vanities, countertops, faucet handles and any shared things such as telephones); and cleaning eyeglasses daily (taking care not to contaminate cloths and towels).
Spreading infection can also be prevented by not using the same eye drops in non-infected eyes (i.e. these should only be used in the eye being treated / one dispenser bottle per eye); not wearing contact lenses, not sharing personal items which could transmit infection (washcloths, towels, pillows, cosmetics / make-up and make-up application tools, eyeglasses, contact lenses and eye drops); as well as not using swimming pools. If a doctor has recommended that a person avoid contact with others and has booked a period of time away from the office or school, it is best to stay home until an infection is no longer contagious.
- A person exposed to someone with conjunctivitis can prevent transmission by: Washing their hands with warm water and soap or using an alcohol-based sanitiser (especially after making contact with a person who has an infection, or handling items used by the individual); and taking care not to their touch eyes, nose or mouth; not sharing personal items (such as eye drops, make-up and make-up application tools, towels, washcloths, bed linen, contact lenses or storage cases and eyeglasses).
- Preventing infection recurrence: Measures to avoid a potential re-infection include discarding and replacing face or eye make-up that was used before an infection, as well as disposable contact lenses, cleaning solutions and casings. Eyeglasses and hard / extended wear contact lenses that are not disposable should also be sufficiently cleaned, including the casings they are kept in.
Conjunctivitis can also be prevented by:
- Avoiding or limiting exposure to known allergens that caused / triggered an allergic conjunctivitis infection. The use of air purifiers and scent-free detergents and soaps can also help to minimise exposure to certain allergies, especially in the home.
- Ensuring vaccinations for some viral or bacterial conditions are up to date - including those for measles (rubeola), rubella (German measles), shingles, chicken pox (varicella), haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib) and pneumococcal. 18
- Using a recommended antibiotic ointment provided shortly after the birth of baby as per a doctor’s directions – bacteria is often present in a mother’s birth canal and can cause an infection during birth. Sometimes as a precaution, ointment will be recommended in the first days of life so as to prevent possible infection.
18. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2 October 2017. Preventing the Spread of Conjunctivitis: https://www.cdc.gov/conjunctivitis/about/prevention.html [Accessed 22.08.2018]