Eye bug caught on rugby trip can cause blindness

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 May, 2012, 12:00am


A rare eye infection 40 boys suffered while in Singapore for a rugby tournament is resistant to drugs and can cause blindness if not treated properly, doctors say.

The parasite lives in the cornea, causing painful and itchy red eyes that are sensitive to light.

'The application of steroids, which is a treatment for normal eye infections, only makes the condition worse as the medicine feeds the bug,' said Alvin Kwok, an ophthalmologist at the Hong Kong Sanatorium and Hospital.

'The parasite is also very resistant to drugs. The boys need to apply medicine every half an hour to the eye, and it will take them as long as four weeks to get better.'

The incubation period, before patients develop symptoms, can stretch to several weeks - one nine-year-old was only diagnosed yesterday.

Forty of the 60 youngsters who went to Singapore last month have developed the eye condition.

One of the rugby club chairmen who joined the tour, Phillip Baldwin of DB Pirates, said the boys had not improved until the infection was identified as keratoconjunctivitis, a parasite rarely seen in Hong Kong.

Many of the boys, aged nine to 16, have been unable to go to school and some needed to delay sitting exams.

Some 23 boys are now being treated by Kwok.

Baldwin said the teams were not aware of the health risk when they went on the tour to the Lion City. He said the tournament organiser knew there had been a minor outbreak, but only casually warned them.

Dr Raymond Yung, assistant medical superintendent of the Happy Valley hospital, said: 'With serious inflammation in the cornea, the patient could lose their sight and require a cornea transplant.'