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Neonatal Conjunctivitis

  • Author: Emily A McCourt, MD; Chief Editor: John D Sheppard, Jr, MD, MMSc  more...
 
Updated: Jan 11, 2016
 

Background

Neonatal conjunctivitis presents during the first month of life. It may be aseptic or septic.

Aseptic neonatal conjunctivitis most often is a chemical conjunctivitis that is induced by silver nitrate solution, which is used for Crede prophylaxis of infectious conjunctivitis. Chemical conjunctivitis is becoming less common owing to the use of erythromycin ointment or povidone iodide in place of silver nitrate solution for the prophylaxis of infectious conjunctivitis. (See Etiology and Treatment.)

Bacterial and viral infections are major causes of septic neonatal conjunctivitis, with Chlamydia being the most common infectious agent. Infants may acquire these infective agents as they pass through the birth canal during the birth process. (The effects of gonococcal conjunctivitis are seen in the images below.) (See Etiology.)

Severe purulent discharge and eyelid edema in a ne Severe purulent discharge and eyelid edema in a newborn with gonococcal conjunctivitis (confirmed with Gram stain and culture).
Cloudy cornea without ulcer in neonatal gonococcal Cloudy cornea without ulcer in neonatal gonococcal conjunctivitis.

See the following for more information:

Anatomy and pathology

The conjunctiva (a thin translucent mucous membrane) can be divided into palpebral, bulbar, and fornical, based on the location. The conjunctiva contains nonkeratinizing, squamous epithelium and a thin, richly vascularized substantia propria containing lymphatic vessels and cells, such as lymphocytes, plasma cells, mast cells, and macrophages. The conjunctiva also has accessory lacrimal glands and goblet cells.

The pathology of neonatal conjunctivitis is influenced by the anatomy of the conjunctival tissues in the newborn. The inflammation of the conjunctiva may cause blood vessel dilation, potentially dramatic chemosis, and excessive secretion. This infection tends to be more serious in neonates owing to their lack of immunity, absence of lymphoid tissue in the conjunctiva, and absence of tears at birth. 

Patient education

Educate parents or care providers to wash their hands frequently to prevent transmission of neonatal conjunctivitis. Educate pregnant women on the importance of regular examinations to detect and treat sexually transmitted infections such as herpes simplex, gonorrhea, and chlamydia in order to decrease the incidence of neonatal conjunctivitis. 

For patient education information, see the Eye and Vision Center, as well as Pinkeye.

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Etiology

The etiology of neonatal conjunctivitis can be chemical or microbial. Although several noninfectious and infectious agents can inflame the conjunctiva, the most common causes of neonatal conjunctivitis are silver nitrate solution and chlamydial, gonococcal, staphylococcal, and herpetic infections. 

Silver nitrate solution

Crede's method of instilling a drop of 2% aqueous solution of silver nitrate into a newborn's eyes was first published in 1881 and significantly advanced the prevention of neonatal conjunctivitis.[1]

Silver nitrate is a surface-active chemical that facilitates agglutination and inactivation of gonococci. Ironically, silver nitrate was later found to be toxic to the conjunctiva, particularly in higher concentrations, potentially causing a sterile neonatal conjunctivitis. 

Chlamydial conjunctivitis

Chlamydia trachomatis is an obligate intracellular parasite and has been identified as the most common infectious cause of neonatal conjunctivitis.[2]

The reservoir of the organism is the maternal cervix or urethra. Infants who are born to infected mothers are at high risk (approximately 25%-50%) of developing an infection.[3] Chlamydial pneumonitis may also accompany neonatal conjunctivitis.

Neisserial conjunctivitis

Neisseria gonorrhoeae is a gram-negative diplococcus and is potentially the most dangerous and virulent infectious cause of neonatal conjunctivitis. As with chlamydia, maternal cervical and urethral mucosa provide a reservoir for N gonorrhoeae, which is acquired during birth.

Gonococci can penetrate intact epithelial cells and divide rapidly inside them. Diagnostic Gram or Giemsa stain smears obtained from genitourinary or ocular mucosal scrapings reveal characteristic gram-negative intracellular diplococci.

Gonococcal conjunctivitis must be absolutely excluded in every case of neonatal conjunctivitis to prevent potentially blinding corneal and conjunctival complications. 

Other bacteria

The most commonly identified gram-positive organisms include Staphylococcus aureus,Streptococcus pneumoniae,Streptococcus viridans, and Staphylococcus epidermidis. These bacteria make up 30-50% of all cases of infectious neonatal conjunctivitis.[4]

Gram-negative organisms, such as Escherichia coli, Klebsiella pneumoniae, Serratia marcescens, and Proteus, Enterobacter, and Pseudomonas species, also have been implicated. There has been one reported case of Eikenella corrodens neonatal conjunctivitis.[5]

Infants of low birth weight and low gestational age with clinical signs of conjunctivitis in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) should be evaluated and treated for a gram-negative etiology.[6]  

Herpes simplex

Herpes simplex virus (HSV) is a rare cause of neonatal keratoconjunctivitis, found in less than 1% of cases,[4] and can be associated with a generalized herpes simplex infection.

Most infants with such an infection acquire the disease during the birth process. Caesarean delivery is strongly considered when active genital disease is recognized at term since the risk of transmitting HSV to the neonate during vaginal delivery is 25-60%.[7]  

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Epidemiology

Occurrence in the United States

The incidence of infectious neonatal conjunctivitis ranges from 1-2%, depending on the socioeconomic character of the area.

The epidemiology of neonatal conjunctivitis changed when silver nitrate solution was introduced in the 1800s to prevent gonococcal ophthalmia.

Chlamydia is the most common infectious agent that causes ophthalmia neonatorum in the United States, where 2%-40% of neonatal conjunctivitis cases are caused by Chlamydia.[3]

In contrast, the incidence of gonococcal ophthalmia neonatorum has been reduced dramatically and causes less than 1% of cases of neonatal conjunctivitis.[8]  

International occurrence

As in the United States, the incidence of ophthalmia neonatorum in many other countries decreased after silver nitrate solution came into general use.

In Europe, the incidence fell from 10% of births to less than 1%.

The rates of neonatal conjunctivitis vary in different parts of the world. In one hospital in Pakistan, the incidence of neonatal conjunctivitis was reported at 17%.[9]  

Race-, sex-, and age-related demographics

No published information is available on race- or sex-related differences in the incidence of neonatal conjunctivitis.

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Prognosis

Neonatal conjunctivitis usually responds to appropriate treatment, and the prognosis generally is good.

Antibiotics have significantly altered the prognosis of neonatal conjunctivitis, especially with Neisseria gonorrhoeae infection.

Mortality associated with neonatal conjunctivitis is due to systemic involvement of the infectious agent. No published information is available on mortality. 

Complications

If untreated, peripheral corneal ulceration may occur in N gonorrhoeae infection and rapidly progress to corneal perforation.

When unrecognized and not immediately treated, Pseudomonas infection may lead to endophthalmitis and subsequent death.

Pneumonia has been reported in 10-20% of infants with chlamydial conjunctivitis.[10]

HSV keratoconjunctivitis can cause corneal scarring and ulceration. Additionally, disseminated HSV infection often includes central nervous system involvement.[7]  

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Contributor Information and Disclosures
Author

Emily A McCourt, MD Assistant Professor of Pediatric Ophthalmology and Adult Strabismus, Children's Hospital Colorado, University of Colorado Denver School of Medicine

Emily A McCourt, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Ophthalmology, American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus, American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Coauthor(s)

Feng Zhao, MD, PhD Private Practice, Allatoona Eye Institute

Feng Zhao, MD, PhD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Ophthalmology, American Medical Association, Georgia Society of Ophthalmology, American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery, International Society of Refractive Surgery

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Robert William Enzenauer, MD, MPH, MBA, MSS Professor, Department of Ophthalmology, University of Colorado School of Medicine; Chairman, Department of Ophthalmology, Children's Hospital

Robert William Enzenauer, MD, MPH, MBA, MSS is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Pediatrics, American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus, American Association for Physician Leadership, American Academy of Ophthalmology

Disclosure: CLEAR DONOR: Received consulting fee from Clear Donor for consulting; Partner received salary from Clear Donor for employment.

Kalpana K Jatla, MD Private Practice, Clarity Eye Center

Kalpana K Jatla, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Ophthalmology

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Specialty Editor Board

Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Received salary from Medscape for employment. for: Medscape.

Chief Editor

John D Sheppard, Jr, MD, MMSc Professor of Ophthalmology, Microbiology and Molecular Biology, Clinical Director, Thomas R Lee Center for Ocular Pharmacology, Ophthalmology Residency Research Program Director, Eastern Virginia Medical School; President, Virginia Eye Consultants

John D Sheppard, Jr, MD, MMSc is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Ophthalmology, American Society for Microbiology, American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery, Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology, American Uveitis Society

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Acknowledgements

Gerhard W Cibis, MD Clinical Professor, Director of Pediatric Ophthalmology Service, Department of Ophthalmology, University of Kansas School of Medicine

Gerhard W Cibis, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Ophthalmology, American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus, and American Ophthalmological Society

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Simon K Law, MD, PharmD Associate Professor of Ophthalmology, Jules Stein Eye Institute, University of California, Los Angeles, David Geffen School of Medicine

Simon K Law, MD, PharmD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Ophthalmology, American Glaucoma Society, and Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Christopher J Rapuano, MD Professor, Department of Ophthalmology, Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University; Director of the Cornea Service, Co-Director of Refractive Surgery Department, Wills Eye Institute

Christopher J Rapuano, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Ophthalmology, American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery, Contact Lens Association of Ophthalmologists, Cornea Society, Eye Bank Association of America, International Society of Refractive Surgery, and Pan-American Association of Ophthalmology

Disclosure: Allergan Honoraria Speaking and teaching; Allergan Consulting fee Consulting; Alcon Honoraria Speaking and teaching; Inspire Honoraria Speaking and teaching; RPS Ownership interest Other; Vistakon Honoraria Speaking and teaching; EyeGate Pharma Consulting; Inspire Consulting fee Consulting; Bausch & Lomb Honoraria Speaking and teaching; Bausch & Lomb Consulting fee Consulting

References
  1. Credé. Reports from the obstetrical clinic in Leipzig. Prevention of eye inflammation in the newborn. Am J Dis Child. 1971 Jan. 121(1):3-4. [Medline].

  2. Rours IG, Hammerschlag MR, Ott A, De Faber TJ, Verbrugh HA, de Groot R, et al. Chlamydia trachomatis as a cause of neonatal conjunctivitis in Dutch infants. Pediatrics. 2008 Feb. 121(2):e321-6. [Medline].

  3. American Academy of Pediatrics. Chlamydia Trachomatis. Pickering LK, Baker CJ, Kimberlin DW, Long SS, eds. Red Book: Report of the Committee on Infectious Diseases. 28th ed. Elk Grove Village, Ill: American Academy of Pediatrics; 2009. 255-9.

  4. American Academy of Pediatrics. Prevention of Neonatal Ophthalmia. Pickering LK, Baker CJ, Kimberlin DW, Long SS eds. Red Book 2009 Report of the Committee on Infectious Diseases. 28th ed. Elk Grove Village, Ill: American Academy of Pediatrics; 2009. 827-9.

  5. Chhabra MS, Motley WW 3rd, Mortensen JE. Eikenella corrodens as a causative agent for neonatal conjunctivitis. J AAPOS. 2008 Oct. 12(5):524-5. [Medline].

  6. Chen CJ, Starr CE. Epidemiology of gram-negative conjunctivitis in neonatal intensive care unit patients. Am J Ophthalmol. 2008 Jun. 145(6):966-970. [Medline].

  7. American Academy of Pediatrics. Herpes Simplex. Pickering LK, Baker CJ, Kimberlin DW, Long SS eds. Red Book 2009 Report of the Committee on Infectious Diseases. 28th ed. Elk Grove Village, Ill: American Academy of Pediatrics; 2009. 363-73.

  8. American Academy of Pediatrics. Gonococcal Infections. Pickering LK, Baker CJ, Kimberlin DW, Long SS eds. Red Book 2009 Report of the Committee on Infectious Diseases. 28th ed. Elk Grove Village, Ill: American Academy of Pediatrics; 2009. 305-13.

  9. Gul SS, Jamal M, Khan N. Ophthalmia neonatorum. J Coll Physicians Surg Pak. 2010 Sep. 20(9):595-8. [Medline].

  10. Zuppa AA, D'Andrea V, Catenazzi P, Scorrano A, Romagnoli C. Ophthalmia neonatorum: what kind of prophylaxis?. J Matern Fetal Neonatal Med. 2011 Jun. 24(6):769-73. [Medline].

  11. Pediatric Conjunctivitis. Wright, Kenneth and Strube, Yi Ning. Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus. Third. New York, NY: Oxford University Press; 2012. 633-636.

  12. Yip PP, Chan WH, Yip KT, Que TL, Kwong NS, Ho CK. The use of polymerase chain reaction assay versus conventional methods in detecting neonatal chlamydial conjunctivitis. J Pediatr Ophthalmol Strabismus. 2008 Jul-Aug. 45(4):234-9. [Medline].

  13. Gichuhi S, Bosire R, Mbori-Ngacha D, Gichuhi C, Wamalwa D, Maleche-Obimbo E, et al. Risk factors for neonatal conjunctivitis in babies of HIV-1 infected mothers. Ophthalmic Epidemiol. 2009 Nov-Dec. 16(6):337-45. [Medline].

  14. Prevention of Neonatal Ophthalmia. Pickering LK, ed. American Academy of Pediatrics. Red Book: 2012 Report of the Committee on Infectious Diseases. 29th Edition. Elk Grove Village, IL:

  15. McDonald M, Hardten D, Mah F, O’Brien T, Rapuano C, Schanzlin D, et al. Management of Epithelial Herpetic Keratitis: An Evidence-Based Algorithm. Optometric Management. Available at http://www.optometricmanagement.com/content/bl/2/b-l_treament-finalnb.pdf. Nov 11, 2012;

 
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Severe purulent discharge and eyelid edema in a newborn with gonococcal conjunctivitis (confirmed with Gram stain and culture).
Cloudy cornea without ulcer in neonatal gonococcal conjunctivitis.
 
 
 
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