Ophthalmia Neonatorum Due to Gonococcus
Ophthalmia neonatorum (ON) is a term used to describe eye infections which can occur in newborns. Less commonly, ON can be caused by Neisseria gonorrhoeae or gonococcus, a sexually transmitted infection (STI). ON due to gonococcal infection is considered a sexually transmitted infection (STI) and is associated with greater risk of vision loss from the infection itself, as well as more serious secondary infections.
ON due to gonococcal infection occurs more often in newborns born to a mother with an active gonococcal infection. In the United States, it is estimated that 1 in 5,000 newborns is affected by ON due to gonococcal infection. Without treatment, the risk of gonococcus spreading to the blood (disseminated gonoccocal infection) and potentially to the skin, joints, or heart is high.
Signs and Symptoms of ON due to Gonococcus
Signs and symptoms of ON due to gonococcus typically appear within the first few days of life. Affected newborns may experience any of the following symptoms:
- Redness of the eyes and/or eyelids
- Eye discharge that is yellow, green, or white in color
- Swelling of the eyes or eyelids
- Crusting of the eyelashes
- Irritability or pain in the eyes
Treatment of ON Due to Gonococcus
If ON due to gonococcus is suspected, the newborn should be seen by an ophthalmologist (eye doctor) as soon as possible for treatment. Treatment typically includes antibiotic eye drops or ointment, which may be used for seven to 10 days, or longer, depending on the severity of the infection. Other medications may be prescribed as well to prevent the spread of the infection to other parts of the body.
In addition to treatment for the newborn, the mother should also be evaluated and treated for gonococcus in order to prevent the risk of another infection. If the mother has a history of gonococcal infection, she should be tested and treated prior to delivery.
Complications of ON due to Gonococcus
ON due to gonococcus can cause serious complications if not treated promptly. It can lead to permanent vision problems, and it can spread to other parts of the body in rare cases, causing serious and potentially life-threatening infection.
Prevention of ON due to Gonococcus
There are a few steps that both pregnant women and their partners can take to help prevent ON due to gonococcus. If a pregnant woman has had unprotected sex, she should be evaluated for gonococcus and other STIs. If she is found to have gonorrhea, she should be treated with antibiotics prior to delivery.
Before delivery, it is also recommended that pregnant women inform their healthcare providers if they or their partner has ever had an STI. After delivery, newborns should be vaccinated against gonococcal infection and their eyes should be checked for signs of infection.