Conjunctivitis flare forces AFL Cairns competition to cancel matches
An “extraordinary” outbreak of a highly contagious infection has forced dozens of Cairns AFL players to self-isolate and the league to postpone six games and abandon training sessions this week.
- Dozens of players in the AFL Cairns competition have contracted highly contagious conjunctivitis
- General practitioner describes case numbers as “extraordinary”
- Queensland Health and AFL Headquarters say matches will be called off while the outbreak is under control
About 50 players from two teams, South Cairns Cutters and North Cairns Tigers, are estimated to have contracted conjunctivitis, an eye condition causing redness, irritation and crying.
If left untreated, the inflammation can lead to scarring and permanent vision impairment.
The Cutters were the first club to sound the alarm bells with the league on Monday afternoon after club president Heath Black said it emerged the team had 30 suspected cases in their midst.
“No one has ever encountered something like this before at a soccer club,” Mr. Black said.
“We were aware of a few cases last week and thought we were aware and on Monday we were told more players had symptoms.
After consultation with Queensland Health and AFL headquarters in Melbourne, the Cutters’ Friday night clash against Manunda Hawks at Cazalys has been called off with the game due to be played on a date yet to be determined.
The women’s match between the two teams on Saturday has also been postponed.
In another blow, the Tigers’ reserves, senior and women’s games against the Cairns Saints were also called off Thursday afternoon after 20 more players came forward with the condition.
League President Gary Young said if the delay was disappointing, the number of cases would almost certainly have skyrocketed if matches had gone as planned.
“I wouldn’t have wanted to be responsible for this,” Mr. Young said.
“If everyone sits down and thinks about it quietly, [they’ll see] that way we tackle it as quickly as possible.
“There has been a bit of heartache in the way we operate and that’s why we asked for advice. If you get a handle on that, it goes pretty quickly.”
Mr Young added that the highly contagious nature of the disease made it difficult to blame players for its rampant spread within the AFL community.
“It could be as innocent as a [infected] kid hugging mom or dad, ”Young said.
“Then they came to soccer practice, shook someone’s hand and off we went to the race. It’s so contagious.”
Longtime AFL Cairns mainstay and GP Garry Hartrick said the number of suspected cases was astounding.
“We have a case or two every year – a player comes to training, doesn’t think about it and is told to go home and not spread the virus,” said Dr Hartrick, a former president of Manunda Hawks.
“But I don’t remember anything like that. It’s extraordinary.
“We know that conjunctivitis is very contagious. You see it in schools, but not so much in adults.
“Every once in a while you get something like that and it takes off and that’s obviously what happened here.”
Dr Hartrick said conjunctivitis can have lifelong effects on a person’s health if not treated properly and quickly.
“It can cause corneal ulceration. Part of the bacterial infection can get into the eyes and cause cellulitis. [inflammation] around the face and be responsible for long-term damage and decreased eyesight.
“Every year we see a number of people in general practice who maybe aren’t doing it early enough, maybe not taking medication, or maybe just falling victim to a really nasty virus.
“They end up seeing ophthalmologists sometime after dealing with the ramifications.”
Mixture of devices
The game has the potential to be financially damaging to clubs with multiple teams flying into interstate players for matches throughout the season.
But Mr Black said he hoped no team would be out of pocket and work with the Hawks to ensure any potentially lost money can be recovered.
“Sometimes there is a cost involved in rescheduling tickets to fly into players. However, this can be recouped if given sufficient notice,” he said.
“Manunda being the home team, he won’t have any recipes at the door, at the bar or in the canteen this weekend.
“But with the rescheduling of the game, we think they should be able to recoup the income they would otherwise have made.
“There are a few competitive byes, so maybe that’s when the games will be played.”
Dr Hartrick endorsed the league’s decision.
“The chances of this becoming a major problem for those who have caught the infection are low, but they are still present and there is a chance that it will spread further,” said Dr Hartrick.
“It’s a timely reminder that everything has a chance to turn into a very nasty infection.”
Additionally, the Tigers and Cutters have been ordered to undertake “deep cleans” of their facilities at Fretwell Park and Watsons Oval before players can return.
In the men’s and women’s only game, the Cairns City Lions face the Centrals Trinity Beach Bulldogs at the Holloways Beach Sports Complex on Saturday.