Olympics: Costas' pinkeye puts infection in news - Contagious condition, seek eye doctor

Published on Wednesday, 12 February 2014 22:41 - Written by Emily Guevara and Faith Harper Staff Writers

When 5-year-old Charlie Furr went to bed Monday night, his eyes were fine, but come Tuesday morning, he struggled to open them.

And when he finally did, they were bloodshot and inflamed, his mother said.

It turns out his stuffy nose had turned into a sinus infection, which spread to his eyes and ears.

“He’s fine,” said Jennifer Furr, 40, of Tyler. “He’s not really complaining about pain or discomfort.”

The doctor prescribed amoxicillin, a strong antibiotic, and Ms. Furr, who works as All Saints Episcopal School’s fine arts director and middle and upper school choir director, expected him to be back at school today.

The dreaded “pink eye,” also known as conjunctivitis, is getting some national attention after well-known NBC broadcaster Bob Costas has had to miss hosting the Olympic primetime show this week due to of an eye infection.

This was the first time since CBS presented the Nagano Olympic Winter Games in 1998 that someone other than Costas has served as host on the Olympic primetime show, according to an NBC news release.

Costas started this Sochi Olympics with the infection and had been wearing glasses, which he usually doesn’t wear.

He made light of it, comparing his infected eye to “and old Soviet flag.”

However, as the infection became increasingly worse, he could no longer do his job.

“Reluctantly, I was trying to throw a complete game here, but I think we’re going to have to go to the bullpen, and I don’t know if you’re aware of this or not, but you’re Mariano Rivera, at least tonight,” Costas told his replacement, Matt Lauer, by phone Tuesday on NBC’s Today, according to a story on the show’s website.

Although Costas hoped to miss only Tuesday night, he called in to the show again on Wednesday to announce Lauer would have to fill in that night as well.

Costas said he was suffering from a viral infection and simply had to manage the symptoms while letting the virus run its course, according to an NBC news release.


Infection Defined

Dr. Damon Smith of the Trinity Clinic Eye Center said pink eye is an inflammation of the outer lining of the eye.

The infection can be caused by either allergies or bacterial or viral infections getting into the eye.

The infections are highly contagious and are spread by an infected person rubbing their eyes and then touching a surface, followed by an uninfected person touching that same surface and rubbing their eyes. He said the best defense against the infections is good hand-washing habits.

Smith said infections need great attention, and infected people can limit the spread to others by not sharing pillows, blankets, towels or anything else that touches their face or unwashed hands.

Viral pinkeye is the most common, with symptoms including sensitivity to light, mild itching, red eyes and watery discharge. He said the infection generally starts in one eye and spreads to the other.

Smith said Costas’ infection likely would take a week or two to run its course.

“It’s the hallmark rhinovirus, the same virus that many have with a common cold and upper respiratory infections,” Smith said. “Typically with those, it starts in one eye and migrates to the other after a few days and is very contagious.”

Bacterial infections are not as common and are characterized by a mucus-like discharge from the eye that can seal the eye shut, Smith said. He said there is also itching, redness and light sensitivity.

Bacterial infections can be more dangerous because certain bacteria can penetrate the cornea and cause vision loss.

Infected people are advised to go to an eye doctor to determine what type of infection they have and get treatment.

Contacts should also be avoided because the plastic can not only irritate an already weakened eye, but can provide a safe spot for bacteria to multiply and prevent the eye’s natural defense system from reaching it, Smith said.

Wearing contacts with a bacterial infection can increase the odds of a corneal infection, vision loss and eye ulcers, Smith said.

Just because an eye is red does not necessarily mean a bacteria or virus is the culprit. Some cases are isolated incidents and others are caused by trauma, he said.

“Not every red eye is infectious, and you need to seek care from your eye care professional to further (investigate) what the cause was,” Smith said.


Infections on Campus

Area school officials said the issue isn’t much of a problem on their campuses although there are the occasional cases.

Cynthia Fancher, Tyler ISD’s coordinator of health services and a registered nurse, said there are a few cases of pink eye in the district.

Because allergies can cause pink eye, cases may be more prevalent during allergy season than other times of the year, Ms. Fancher wrote in an email.

Although the district doesn’t see many cases of the condition, students with viral or bacterial pink eye must stay home until they have a physician’s permission to return to school or until they are symptom-free, Ms. Fancher said.

“We occasionally see students with pink eye in our clinics, but often not due to an infection, but due to allergies, or they have irritated their eyes,” she wrote in the email.

Scharlanne Crozier, All Saints Episcopal School’s director of communications, said school nurse Amanda Baker told her that the school hasn’t had any outbreaks of the infection.

It doesn’t have a significant effect on student absences because students can miss as little as one day if they do have pink eye. School policy states that students with pink eye must not come to school. 

Ms. Crozier said the custodians wipe down desks daily, and if a child in a particular class is sick, custodians or other staff members typically clean more thoroughly.