An Overview of Epidemic Keratoconjunctivitis

A Highly Contagious Viral Eye Infection

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Epidemic keratoconjunctivitis (EKC) is a contagious eye infection, often referred to as viral conjunctivitis. EKC is an inflammation of the cornea and conjunctiva. In pink eye or conjunctivitis, only the conjunctiva is inflamed. It is highly contagious and can last as long as a month. EKC occurs mostly in places of close human contact, such as schools, hospitals, and office environments.


People with EKC usually complain of a sudden onset of the following symptoms:

  • eye redness and irritation
  • eye soreness
  • light sensitivity
  • excessive tearing

Some people with the infection say that it feels like a piece of sand or foreign body is in their eyes. Both the eye and eyelid can become swollen, red and irritated. The viral infection usually involves one eye first, then eventually infects the other eye. People with EKC may have significantly blurred vision for several days. Symptoms usually last for about two weeks.


EKC is caused by a virus called adenovirus. Adenovirus also causes similar conditions such as pharyngoconjunctival fever. The virus can be spread by the following:

  • direct contact with tears or other fluids from infected eyes
  • contact with improperly disinfected diagnostic instruments
  • swimming pools
  • air droplets

Diagnostic Methods

Doctors diagnose EKC by listening closely to a patient’s complaints and eye health history.

  • Presence of subepithelial infiltrates. A subepithelial infiltrate can appear as a whitish area on the cornea that can temporally reduce vision.
  • Swollen lymph nodes in front of the ears.
  • Development of a pseudomembrane. A pseudomembrane can develop on the tissue under the lower eyelid on the conjunctiva.
  • RPS Adeno Detector test. This diagnostic test can deliver accurate diagnostic results in 10 minutes.


Since antibiotic medicines are not effective in treating EKC, treatment focuses on alleviating unwanted symptoms:

  • Cold compresses
  • Artificial tears
  • Vasoconstrictor eye drops
  • Steroid eye drops
  • Betadine,(povidone-iodine) application to decrease the amount of virus present

A Word From Verywell

Epidemic keratoconjunctivitis (EKC) is a highly contagious infection of the front part of the eye. The miserable infection can be easily spread by coming into contact with the tears or discharge from the eyes of an infected person. A person could catch the infection by touching contaminated surfaces or object and then touching their own eyes. Symptoms can be quite bothersome, including redness, itching, irritation and tearing but usually resolve in about two weeks. If you develop EKC, it is important to practice good hygiene (frequent hand washing) to avoid spreading the infection to other people.

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Article Sources

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  • EyeWiki, "Epidemic Keratoconunctivitis. American Academy of Ophthalmology, 27 April 2016.