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Pacific edition, Monday, September 3, 2007

SEOUL — Parents should be on the lookout for certain communicable diseases now that their children are back in school, officials warned last week.

South Korean medical officials issued a recent warning that cases of viral conjunctivitis, or pink eye, quickly could reach epidemic proportions if not monitored.

Officials from 18th Medical Command said Friday that while the disease annually strikes school-age South Korean children in clusters, they haven’t seen a spike among the U.S. Forces Korea community. Most children went back to school on Aug. 27.

“U.S. Forces Korea beneficiaries have a low, stable incidence of viral conjunctivitis, and none in clusters,” Lt. Col. Eric Lund said in an information paper sent to Stars and Stripes on Friday.

Lund is the 18th Medical Command’s preventive medicine consultant.

Lund said viral conjunctivitis is a highly contagious eye disease that can be spread when a person rubs his or her eyes with contaminated hands. It can also be spread by contaminated towels or swimming in water with inadequate chlorination.

The first symptom will be minor eye discomfort, “like something got inside the eye and the eyelids,” Lund wrote. That is followed by redness and inflammation of the tissue covering the eye and inner surface of the eyelids.

“There may be some burning or itching, eye pain, excessive tearing and white or yellowish pus that may cause the eyelids to stick shut in the morning,” Lund added.

Lund said those infected with conjunctivitis should avoid public swimming pools and public baths and should not return to work, school or day care until the symptoms have passed.

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