How to prevent, manage red eyes

The Health ministry says the outbreak is not only in Kampala but also in prison facilities in other districts.

With more than 950 cases of infection with a contagious eye disease, conjunctivitis (red eyes), registered in schools and prisons, health experts have prescribed a raft of measures to prevent and manage the disease.

Dr Daniel Kyabayinze, the director of public health at the Health ministry, said yesterday in Kampala that the disease presents with many signs and symptoms.

“The patients will say there is irritation of the eye, they don’t want to look in bright light (increased sensitivity to light), the eyes pain and there is a discharge,” he noted.

“When the clinicians examine, they will find that the eye is inflamed, the conjunctiva, which is the lining inside of the eyelids and covers the sclera (the white of the eye), is all red with increased blood flow. This can also be as a result of rubbing the eyes,” he added.

According to health experts, the disease can be caused by a virus, bacteria or environmental pollutants. Dr Kyabayinze said their scientists are still doing tests to determine the actual cause of the outbreak in Kampala and prison facilities.

According to information from the Health ministry, viral conjunctivitis, the most common form, is highly contagious and can spread from person to person through direct contact, sharing of personal items such as towels or pillowcases, facial contact, or sharing of eye drops or eyeglasses.

“We shall test a few samples and we shall be able to tell whether it is bacterial or viral. Other things can also cause red eyes, allergens, dust, smoke and chemicals. We need to prevent it from spreading by doing what we told people during Covid,” Dr Kyabayinze said.

The outbreak was first announced by Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) on March 13. In their notice, the authority, without revealing figures, said “Cases have already been reported in some of our schools and educational institutors.” Now in a statement on Thursday afternoon, the Health ministry said the outbreak is not only in Kampala but also in prison facilities in other districts.

“This outbreak has been identified in several schools in the capital city and eight (8) prison facilities in the country. The affected divisions within the Kampala district are Nakawa and Rubaga. The affected prisons include Luzira Upper Prison, Murchison Bay Prison, Kasanda Prison, Kaweeri Prison, Lira Main Prison, Erute Prison, Pader Prison, and Kampala Remand Prison,” the statement read.

The ministry also said as of March 13, a total of 954 cumulative cases were registered, with an incidence of 353. Joint surveillance efforts between the Kampala City Council Authority and Ministry of Health teams are actively underway.

“So far, a total of 790 cases cumulatively have been diagnosed in the affected prison facilities, of which 711 have been declared as recovered giving a recovery rate of 90 percent. The incident cases are mainly admitted as new inmates by police who initiate the cascade of in-custody transmission,” the statement read.

The ministry also revealed that the contagious period (when one can spread the disease) lies within the first 10-12 days: infection can last up to three weeks.

The ministry, in the statement, urged the public to adhere to the following preventive measures, which include maintaining high sanitation standards and washing hands frequently with clean water and soap.

The ministry also advised people to avoid direct contact with infected individuals, particularly touching the eyes and shaking hands, and refrain from sharing items with infected persons.


According to information from the American Academy of Ophthalmology (eye care), viral conjunctivitis is like a common cold in the eye.

“There is no treatment for the virus and usually you just have to let it heal on its own. Viral pink (red) eye should go away within a week or two without treatment,” information from the Academy’s website reads.

Information from the Academy shows that the conjunctivitis caused by a bacteria produces more mucus or pus than viral or allergic red eyes. This, they said “can be treated with antibiotics prescribed by a doctor.”

To reduce the symptoms of bacterial or viral conjunctivitis, the Academy advises that one can take ibuprofen or another over-the-counter pain killer and or use over-the-counter lubricating eye drops (artificial tears).

One can also put a warm, damp washcloth over your eyes for a few minutes. “To make this warm compress: Soak a clean washcloth in warm water then wring it out so it’s not dripping. Lay the damp cloth over your eyes and leave it in place until it cools. Repeat this several times a day, or as often as is comfortable,” information from the website reads.

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