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Omphalitis Treatment & Management

  • Author: Patrick G Gallagher, MD; Chief Editor: Ted Rosenkrantz, MD  more...
Updated: Jan 02, 2016

Medical Care

Treatment of omphalitis (periumbilical edema, erythema, and tenderness) in the newborn includes antimicrobial therapy and supportive care.

Antimicrobial therapy

Note the following:

  • Include parenteral antimicrobial coverage for gram-positive and gram-negative organisms. A combination of an antistaphylococcal penicillin vancomycin and an aminoglycoside antibiotic is recommended.
  • Some believe that anaerobic coverage is important in all patients. Omphalitis complicated by necrotizing fasciitis or myonecrosis requires a more aggressive approach, with antimicrobial therapy directed at anaerobic organisms as well as gram-positive and gram-negative organisms. Metronidazole or clindamycin may provide anaerobic coverage.
  • Pseudomonas species have been implicated in particularly rapid or invasive disease.
  • As with antimicrobial therapy for other infections, consider local antibiotic susceptibility patterns, particularly patterns of S aureus and enterococcal susceptibility.
  • Additional topical therapy with triple dye, bacitracin, and other antimicrobials has been suggested in addition to parenteral antibiotic therapy, but such treatment is unproven.

Supportive care

In addition to antimicrobial therapy, supportive care is essential to survival. These measures include the following:

  • Provide ventilatory assistance and supplementary oxygen for hypoxemia or apnea unresponsive to stimulation.
  • Administer fluid, vasoactive agents, or both (as indicated) for hypotension.
  • Administration of platelets, fresh frozen plasma, or cryoprecipitate for disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC) and clinical bleeding is suggested.
  • Treat infants at centers capable of supporting cardiopulmonary function.

Other treatment considerations

Consider the following:

  • Monitor patients for progression of disease. Early surgical intervention may be lifesaving.
  • In uncomplicated cases, expect erythema of the umbilical stump to improve within 12-24 hours after the initiation of antimicrobial therapy. Failure to respond may suggest disease progression, presence of an anatomic defect, or an immunodeficiency state.
  • The role of hyperbaric oxygen in treatment of patients with anaerobic necrotizing fasciitis and myonecrosis is controversial because no prospective controlled data are available and pediatric data are scarce. In the treatment chambers, tissue levels of oxygen are maximized when the patient breathes 100% oxygen at 2-3 atm. The delivery of high concentrations of oxygen to marginally perfused tissues may have a detrimental effect on the growth of anaerobic organisms and improve phagocyte function. However, surgical therapy has the highest priority, and initiation of hyperbaric oxygen therapy should not delay transport to a facility with staff capable of performing surgical debridement.

Surgical Care

Management of necrotizing fasciitis and myonecrosis involves early and complete surgical debridement of the affected tissue and muscle.[24, 45] Consider the following:

  • Although the extent of debridement depends on the viability of tissue and muscle, which is determined at the time of surgery, excision of preperitoneal tissue (including the umbilicus, umbilical vessels, and urachal remnant) is critically important in the eradication of the infection.
  • These tissues can harbor invasive bacteria and provide a route for progressive spread of infection after less extensive debridement.
  • Delay in diagnosis or surgery allows progression and spread of necrosis, leading to extensive tissue loss and worsening systemic toxicity.
  • Several surgical procedures may be required before all nonviable tissue is removed.


The following consultations may be indicated:

  • Infectious disease specialist - For appropriate antimicrobial selection, particularly if necrotizing fasciitis or myonecrosis occurs
  • Surgeon - If necrotizing fasciitis or myonecrosis is suspected (consult early in the disease course)


Once omphalitis is suspected, do not feed the infant enterally. Enteral feedings may be resumed once the acute infection resolves. Parenteral nutrition is required in infants with omphalitis.

Contributor Information and Disclosures

Patrick G Gallagher, MD Professor, Departments of Pediatrics, Pathology and Genetics, Division of Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine, Yale University School of Medicine and Yale-New Haven Children's Hospital

Patrick G Gallagher, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Pediatrics, American Society for Clinical Investigation, American Society for Clinical Investigation, American Society of Hematology, Connecticut State Medical Society, Society for Pediatric Research, American Society of Human Genetics

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.


Samir S Shah, MD, MSc Director, Division of Hospital Medicine, Attending Physician in Hospital Medicine and Infectious Diseases, James M Ewell Endowed Chair, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center; Professor, Department of Pediatrics, University of Cincinnati College of Medicine

Samir S Shah, MD, MSc is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Epidemiology, Infectious Diseases Society of America, Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society, Phi Beta Kappa, Society for Pediatric Research

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Specialty Editor Board

Mary L Windle, PharmD Adjunct Associate Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Brian S Carter, MD, FAAP Professor of Pediatrics, University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine; Attending Physician, Division of Neonatology, Children's Mercy Hospital and Clinics; Faculty, Children's Mercy Bioethics Center

Brian S Carter, MD, FAAP is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha, American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Pediatric Society, American Society for Bioethics and Humanities, American Society of Law, Medicine & Ethics, Society for Pediatric Research, National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Chief Editor

Ted Rosenkrantz, MD Professor, Departments of Pediatrics and Obstetrics/Gynecology, Division of Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine, University of Connecticut School of Medicine

Ted Rosenkrantz, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Pediatrics, American Pediatric Society, Eastern Society for Pediatric Research, American Medical Association, Connecticut State Medical Society, Society for Pediatric Research

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Additional Contributors

Shelley C Springer, JD, MD, MSc, MBA, FAAP Professor, University of Medicine and Health Sciences, St Kitts, West Indies; Clinical Instructor, Department of Pediatrics, University of Vermont College of Medicine; Clinical Instructor, Department of Pediatrics, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health

Shelley C Springer, JD, MD, MSc, MBA, FAAP is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Pediatrics

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

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Anatomic relationship between the umbilicus and its embryologic attachments.
A case of omphalitis (left) associated with extensive myonecrosis (right).
A case of omphalitis associated with bullous impetigo due to Staphylococcus aureus.
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