April 5, 2014 in Nation/World

Pink eye shutters schools, courts in American Samoa

Fili Sagapolutele Associated Press
 

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa – Officials in American Samoa on Friday ordered all public schools in the U.S. island territory closed after nearly 2,300 students and more than 100 teachers contracted pink eye.

The outbreak prompted the closure of 28 schools from preschool through high school and they will not reopen until Wednesday. Some private schools were also closed and court cases postponed because of pink eye.

Close to 2,300 students and 130 teachers have pink eye, said Salu Hunkin-Finau, director of the territory’s Education Department. About 13,000 kids are enrolled in public schools in American Samoa, a group of islands in the South Pacific about halfway between New Zealand and Hawaii.

“(These) are alarming numbers of students and staff affected,” Hunkin-Finau said. “We are giving our children and all our personnel the days as well as the weekend to take care of themselves and also protect others.”

Conjunctivitis – known as pink eye – is one of the most common eye conditions, inflaming tissue on the eyeball and lining of the eyelid, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC says viral and bacterial pink eye is very contagious, and it can also be caused by allergens.

Local government officials believe it spread from neighboring Samoa, where an outbreak closed schools for a week last month.

The territory’s Department of Health issued a health alert on pink eye last week after the number of cases spiked at community health clinics and a hospital.

The outbreak also affected court cases, with most criminal hearings in the High Court of American Samoa postponed Thursday and Friday because the assistant public defender was out sick with pink eye.

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