Nairobi Red Eye

I wish this was a story about an overnight flight to Kenya, but it’s not. I literally have red eyes.  It’s a bacterial infection of the eye which turns the whole eye red. The eye swells and it’s quite uncomfortable and there is a bunch of mucus that comes out of the eye. Yeah, it’s really gross.

I’ve seen many people around Dar with “red eyes” and my roommates warned me against shaking hands with people I meet because the disease is so contagious. They warned me to always, always wash my hands if I touched anyone. I’ve been following their advice and using my antibacterial moisture wipes to keep myself clean, even though I feel like a complete stereotypical tourist (carrying bottled water is bad enough).  I found out later that even the Minister of Heath and Social Welfare has advised the public to stop shaking hands in order to combat the illness.

But then my roommate, Cecy, caught the red eye virus from a woman at work. She came home with it on Friday night. By Saturday both of her eyes were almost swollen shut. She kept glasses on and I kept my distance, but I wasn’t too surprised when Sunday morning my right eye started feeling uncomfortable. A few hours later the eye was swollen and itchy and red.

By Monday the infection had spread to the right eye. My roommate had some medicated eye drops to use and I cleaned the eyes with salt water (which is recommended). By Tuesday the eyes weren’t much better, so I went to see a doctor. She gave me new eye drops, in case the Cecy’s had been infected, and told me things should be better in a few days.

By Wednesday the eyes were not swollen by the whites of the eye were blood red. I can imagine this infection is particularly rough for individuals with a lot of vanity because you look like you look quite devilish during this phase of the illness.  It’s hard to go out in public until your eyes return to white, soI stayed home another day. People here believe that you can catch this illness by just looking at someone with red eyes so they avoid eye contact with you (reality is that you can only catch it through touch).


It’s Sunday now, a week from the beginning of this whole ordeal, and my eyes are still slightly red, but for the most part I’m back to normal.  For most people the illness only lasts a few days but I had a particularly bad case.  But even the best case scenario — just a a few days off work and having to buy medical eye drops ($3-$5 a bottle) to treat the illness – can have serious  implications for a family trying to make it here.  Most of the citizens of Dar already have so many challenges to overcome in their everyday life that the last thing they need is a case of Nairobi Red Eyes.

About the author

Roxanne Miller