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NC Division of Public Health
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Diseases & Topics

Ophthalmia neonatorum

Mothers with chlamydia or gonorrhea can pass the bacteria to their babies during birth. These bacteria can cause a type of conjunctivitis, or infection of the eyes, in newborn babies called ophthalmia neonatorum. Symptoms of ophthalmia neonatorum include drainage from the eyes and inflammation of the membrane lining the eyelids. Infants with these symptoms should have gonorrhea and chlamydia testing of a specimen from the eyelids.

Ophthalmia neonatorum must be treated immediately in accordance with CDC treatment guidelines for chlamydial and/or gonococcal conjunctivitis to preserve the baby's eyesight.

To prevent such infections in babies, North Carolina law requires chlamydia and gonorrhea screening for all pregnant women at the first prenatal visit. Additionally, pregnant women 25 years of age and younger should be tested for chlamydia and gonorrhea during the third trimester or at delivery if third trimester testing was not done.  All newborn infants should be treated prophylactically against gonococcal ophthalmia neonatorum in accordance with the STD Treatment Guidelines published by the U.S. Public Health Service.

Local health departments offer a wide range of preventive care and reproductive health services to women regardless of income on a sliding fee scale. Contact your local health department External link for information on the programs available in your community.

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