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Pink Eye May Taint Spring Break

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March 14, 2002 -- Sharing a frosty beverage at the beach and packing as many friends as possible into a hotel room are spring break traditions for college students. But this year's spring breakers may be in for a rude awakening, literally. Many may wake up with red, oozing, and crusted-over eyes thanks to an outbreak of conjunctivitis, or pink eye.

The CDC sent a warning today to health care providers to be on the lookout for the highly contagious condition after an outbreak quickly spread across the campus of Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. As many as 10% of the university's more than 5,000 students may have been affected.

Thousands of those students will now be heading for spring break hot spots after Dartmouth's winter term ends today. But as recently as yesterday, the college's health service was still reporting new cases of conjunctivitis.

Health officials warn that crowding and limited access to handwashing facilities may prompt the spread of this highly infectious strain of conjunctivitis from infected Dartmouth students to others. The bacteria causing the outbreak is Streptococcus pneumoniae

The condition is spread from contact with infected eye secretions, sneezing, or hands. The risk of transmission can be reduced by washing hands frequently and by not sharing towels, drinking glasses, or other utensils. The use of antiseptic alcohol-based gels, or hand sanitizers, may also help, although its effectiveness during an outbreak has not been proven.

Symptoms of pink eye include red eyes, discharge from the eyes, and crusting of the eyes in the morning. People who develop these symptoms are asked to seek professional treatment immediately, and the CDC is asking health care providers to report any outbreaks of conjunctivitis caused by this strain of S. pneumoniae.

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