MadSci Network: Cell Biology

Re: How long does pink eye live outside the body?

Date: Sun Feb 10 14:46:10 2002
Posted By: Christine Broussard, Post-doc/Fellow, Genetic Disease Research Branch, National Human Genome Research Inst.
Area of science: Cell Biology
ID: 1013271571.Cb

    Pink eye (also called conjuctivitis) has several possible causes.  It
can be caused by allergies, chemicals, bacteria, and viruses.  Because
there are several different causes of pink eye, the length of time of the
condition also varies.
    If the condition is caused by allergies or chemicals, pink eye will
last as long as you are in contact with the allergens (like pollen) or
chemicals.  For someone with allergies, this may mean having pink eye every
year when allergy season occurs.
    The other two causes of pink eye are bacteria and viruses.  Pink eye
caused by bacteria can be cured with antibiotics.  This usually takes a few
days to one week.  Pink eye caused by viruses cannot be cured with
antibiotics.  However, your body's immune system can get the infection
under control in two to three weeks.
    Bacterial and viral conjuctivitis are contagious.  It is often
recommended that anything that comes in contact with the infected eye(s) be
washed (such as towels, and clothing), as well as surfaces the infected
individual may have touched, such as countertops and doorknobs.  In
addition, if cosmetics, false eyelashes, or contact lenses are used by the
infected person, it is recommended that they be discarded.          
    Viral conjunctivitis is the more common of these two types.  Although
the symptoms of viral conjuncitvitis begin to go away after a week, the
virus is still present in the body for as long as a month.  For this
reason, children and adults are recommended to stay home for at least a
week after contracting the infection.
    The answer to your question depends on which agent caused the
conjunctivitis (environmental or biological).  For conjunctivitis caused by
biological agents (bacteria or viruses), the answer also depends on which
organism caused the infection.  There are many kinds of bacteria and
several viruses that cause conjunctivitis.  It is usually not the case that
a virus or bacterium has been hanging out in someone's make-up or on a
countertop for months waiting to cause conjunctivitis.  You are more likely
to get this condition from direct or indirect immediate contact from
someone who already has the condition.

    There are several web sites sponsored by hospitals or eye clinics
detailing this condition, here are a few:

Thanks for your question!

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