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NC Department of Health and Human Services
NC Division of Public Health
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Diseases & Topics

Ophthalmia neonatorum

Mothers with chlamydia or gonorrhea can pass the bacteria on to their babies during birth. These bacteria in the birth canal can cause a type of conjunctivitis, or infection of the eyes, in newborn babies that is 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 chlamydia and/or gonorrheal conjunctivitis to preserve the baby's eyesight.

To prevent such infections in babies, North Carolina law requires chlamydia and gonorrhea screening for pregnant women. Pregnant women up through age 25 should be screened for chlamydia and gonorrhea at the first prenatal visit and in the third trimester. Women of all ages with new sexual partners or multiple partners should also be screened. Those who have chlamydia or gonorrhea should get appropriate treatment and be re-tested 3-4 months after completing treatment.

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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