Hundreds of students at Dartmouth College and Princeton University have contracted pink eye infections, and experts fear the outbreak could spread during spring breaks.
More than 250 Princeton students have reported symptoms of conjunctivitis since officials began tracking the infections last month.
At Dartmouth, the number is nearing 500, and another 500 students may have had the infection and not reported it, said Dr. Jack Turco of Dartmouth’s student health center.
That number is at least five times higher than usual, and the rate isn’t easing as students leave this week for spring break, Turco said.
“Some students are just developing pink eye now. There is a possibility it will blossom in the different places they go during their break,” Turco said. He urged other schools to watch for signs of the infection.
Pink eye can cause a pink or red discoloration of the eyes, irritation, swelling, blurry vision, sticky eyelids and increased sensitivity to light.
The infection, which can be treated by antibiotic ointment, typically lasts three to four days and is most often caused by a virus and accompanied by a cold.
However, the Dartmouth outbreak is bacterial and spreads quickly, and that has drawn the attention of scientists, Turco said.
“This is not a serious illness, but if some of the properties of this bacteria were transferred to a more dangerous bacteria, that would be dangerous,” Turco said.
Tests are being conducted to determine whether the outbreak at Princeton is bacterial or viral and whether the outbreaks are related.
The Princeton outbreak represents about double what is normally reported there, said Janet A. Neglia of Princeton University Health Services.
Pink eye is spread through eye secretions, hands and breath.