Preventing Ophthalmia Neonatorum
The use of silver nitrate as prophylaxis for neonatal ophthalmia was instituted in the late 1800s to prevent the devastating effects of neonatal ocular infection with Neisseria gonorrhoeae. At that time – during the preantibiotic era – many countries made such prophylaxis mandatory by law. Today, neonatal gonococcal ophthalmia is rare in Canada, but ocular prophylaxis for this condition remains mandatory in some provinces/ territories. Silver nitrate drops are no longer available and erythromycin, the only ophthalmic antibiotic eye ointment currently available for use in newborns, is of questionable efficacy. Ocular prophylaxis is not effective in preventing chlamydial conjunctivitis. Applying medication to the eyes of newborns may result in mild eye irritation and has been perceived by some parents as interfering with mother-infant bonding. Physicians caring for newborns should advocate for rescinding mandatory ocular prophylaxis laws. More effective means of preventing ophthalmia neonatorum include screening all pregnant women for gonorrhea and chlamydia infection, and treatment and follow-up of those found to be infected. Mothers who were not screened should be tested at delivery. Infants of mothers with untreated gonococcal infection at delivery should receive ceftriaxone. Infants exposed to chlamydia at delivery should be followed closely for signs of infection.