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What is Epidemic Keratoconjunctivitis & Is it Contagious?

What is Epidemic Keratoconjunctivitis & is it Contagious?

Conjunctivitis is the inflammation of conjunctiva and it causes redness of eyes, hence it is also known as “pink eye”. Epidemic keratoconjunctivitis (EKC) is a viral infection caused by adenoviruses (particular group of viruses). Epidemic keratoconjunctivitis also affects the respiratory system, gastrointestinal tract along with follicular conjunctivitis. Epidemic keratoconjunctivitis is a contagious disease and as it can spread rapidly.

Epidemic Keratoconjunctivitis

Epidemic keratoconjunctivitis doesn’t have any effective treatment modality. It is a highly contagious disease that spreads from one person to another and becomes hard to deal if not spotted on time. Epidemic keratoconjunctivitis often spreads by rubbing eyes with infected hands or touching your eyes using any other infected object.

People having any symptom of epidemic keratoconjunctivitis, should take care and consider before going to work or school. A contagious person is not allowed to share or contact other people because this infection can spread to others. Most of the epidemic keratoconjunctivitis infection can spreads through hospital settings, schools, offices or crowded areas. Using proper hand washing techniques, hand sanitizers and taking necessary precautions to prevent infections can help. It is best to avoid sharing of person items, napkins or eye wear for prevention of epidemic keratoconjunctivitis.

Signs and Symptoms of Epidemic Keratoconjunctivitis

Epidemic keratoconjunctivitis usually affects one eye but the infection can gradually spread to the other eye too. There are certain specific symptoms of epidemic keratoconjunctivitis and some of them are mentioned below:

  • Irritation and itchiness in the eye
  • Photophobia
  • Excessive tears, with burning sensation in many cases
  • Redness of eye due to inflammation
  • Swelling in the eye, swollen eyelid
  • Sensation as if a foreign body is present in the eye
  • Blurring of vision
  • Clear or yellowish discharge from the eye

Some of the other symptoms of epidemic keratoconjunctivitis include fever, headache, fatigue and swollen lymph nodes. Apart from these, other signs of epidemic keratoconjunctivitis commonly include characteristic lesions of keratitis, which are examined by your physician. Such lesions can last for a long time, even years and also affect visual acuity. Some severe signs of epidemic keratoconjunctivitis can also include scarring in conjunctiva, which can be harmful in the long run.

Diagnosis of Epidemic Keratoconjunctivitis

Diagnosis of epidemic keratoconjunctivitis is based on the symptoms and signs of initial suspicion. There are various physical examinations conducted using a slit lamp and penlight. As there are many other conditions and infections that can affect the eyes in a similar manner, diagnosis of epidemic keratoconjunctivitis is not so easy. However, one way to differentiate epidemic keratoconjunctivitis from other forms of conjunctivitis is with the characteristic discharge that comes from eyes. Bacterial conjunctivitis often leads to discharge with pus but viral conjunctivitis seems to cause water discharge although, laboratory testing is required to confirm the diagnosis of epidemic keratoconjunctivitis.

There are certain testing methods available to test epidemic keratoconjunctivitis but most of them are expensive and may not be able to confirm accurate results. Cell culture, immune assays and polymerase chain reaction (PCR) are some of the tests commonly performed. As a part of advanced technique in the diagnosis of epidemic keratoconjunctivitis, specific Adeno Detector is gaining popularity. It can help to detect the presence of viral particles in tears, which can confirm the diagnosis of epidemic keratoconjunctivitis.

Treatment of Epidemic Keratoconjunctivitis

Treatment of epidemic keratoconjunctivitis is mainly symptomatic and aims to prevent the spread to other people. Just like any other viral infections, epidemic keratoconjunctivitis also gets resolved without using any effective methods of treatment. It has been found that antiviral medications cannot be used to treat epidemic keratoconjunctivitis especially when the adenovirus is responsible.

  • In some severe cases, the treatment of epidemic keratoconjunctivitis may include the use of topical corticosteroids. This can help in reducing the possible causes, symptoms and problems related to inflammation inside eye. However, as the use of corticosteroids can sometimes delay the removal viral infection, its use is decided by the physician only, if required.
  • For some specific cases, physicians may consider the use of antibiotics, if appropriate.
  • Some other methods for treatment of epidemic keratoconjunctivitis are also found effective and can provide relief of symptoms. Use of cold compress and artificial tears may be recommended.


  1. American Academy of Ophthalmology – “Epidemic Keratoconjunctivitis (EKC)”: https://www.aao.org/eye-health/diseases/what-is-epidemic-keratoconjunctivitis
  2. All About Vision – “Epidemic Keratoconjunctivitis (EKC)”: https://www.allaboutvision.com/conditions/epidemic-keratoconjunctivitis.htm
  3. Cleveland Clinic – “Epidemic Keratoconjunctivitis (EKC)”: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/17577-epidemic-keratoconjunctivitis-ekc
  4. National Eye Institute – “Conjunctivitis: What Is Epidemic Keratoconjunctivitis?”: https://www.nei.nih.gov/learn-about-eye-health/eye-conditions-and-diseases/conjunctivitis/what-epidemic-keratoconjunctivitis

Also Read:

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:August 10, 2023

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