When pinkeye swept your children’s school, did you have to call in to work to keep infected children at home?
As of mid-March, children with pinkeye, also known as conjunctivitis, do not have to be excluded from school or childcare unless they meet other exclusion criteria, like a fever.
The Minnesota Department of Health rolled out the new recommendations.
Pinkeye is no more contagious than the common cold, so it’s fine for children and adults alike to go to school, child care, or work with it, the MDH advises.
Additionally, most cases of pinkeye are caused by viruses. Previously, physicians often prescribed antibiotic eye drops for pinkeye; however, antibiotics cannot treat viruses, which makes that treatment unnecessary.
The MDH added that hot or cold compresses or artificial tears may still offer some relief to children with pinkeye that appears to be viral.
Dr. Marcie Billings, a pediatrician at Mayo Clinic, said the new rules simply follow what doctors have known for years.
“Similar to kind of a common cold, if you don’t have a fever, if you’re able to go about what you need to do in the day, that would signify, to me, a common scenario,” she said.
And if it’s a common, viral infection, it should clear up by itself in a few days.
Pinkeye, or conjunctivitis, causes redness, irritation (often burning or grittiness), and sometimes discharge from the eye.
Just like the common cold, symptoms will show up heavily for the first few days, and subside over the course of a week, Billings said.
“If things start to change — gosh, you have a lot of eye pain, the drainage becomes such that you can’t keep up with it, the eye keeps draining throughout the day … where it doesn’t seem mild, those are things to look into,” she said. “We do have specific indications where we would want to see you.”
If a patient has eye pain, excessive discharge, vision changes, or can’t open an eye, those are reasons to go in and seek further treatment, Billings said. Bacterial conjunctivitis is still often self-limited, but can be treated with antibiotics if it doesn’t clear up as well.
But for the most part, pinkeye shouldn’t keep kids out of school, she said.
“The best way I can explain it to families is, really think about this as the common cold of the eye,” Billings said. “If they don’t have a fever, the cold is mild, you would send them. If they have a fever, if the cough or cold is such that it really is putting them down, they wouldn’t be able to handle a full day of school … then you make the determination that they would stay home.”
Shelley Mahannah, a Rochester mom, said the new guidelines will be good for all working parents who have kids in schools and daycare.
As a parent of two boys, ages 5 and 6, Mahannah says she’s kept her kids home in the past when they’ve had pinkeye — especially since that illness has often gone hand-in-hand with other viruses.
Mahannah works from home, which makes keeping her children at home when they’re mildly ill easier. But she says other parents will benefit from the new guidelines, as long as those guidelines are widely communicated to them.
“Parents do need to use their best judgment,” she added. “I still have to use my judgment to make sure they can go to school when they’re sick.”