Neonatal Gonorrheal Ophthalmia
Blindness can occur for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it occurs due to a genetic defect. It can happen when damage to the eye occurs. Some forms of blindness cannot be prevented. However many types of blindness are preventable. One of these types of preventable blindness is known as neonatal gonorrheal ophthalmia. It occurs when mothers with gonorrhea pass their infection to their baby’s eyes during birth. This can cause serious infection or blindness in the newborn baby. When newborns are infected with gonorrhea of the eyes it is called neonatal gonococcal ophthalmia or neonatal gonorrheal ophthalmia.
What is Gonorrhea?
Gonorrhea is a fairly common sexually transmitted disease. It is estimated that more than 700,000 people are infected with this disease every year in the United States. It often doesn’t have any symptoms which can make it difficult to diagnose and treat. When symptoms are present they are often not very obvious and are frequently confused with other conditions like urinary tract infections. If left untreated gonorrhea can lead to serious medical problems including infertility, arthritis and more. In rare cases gonorrhea can spread to the blood or joints and can result in serious medical complications and even death. Both men and women can contract gonorrhea. It is frequently spread through sexual contact, but also be passed from a mother to her baby during a vaginal delivery.
What is Gonococcal Ophthalmia?
During a vaginal delivery the baby passes through the birth canal and vagina. Since these areas are often commonly infected with the gonorrhea bacteria it can easily pass from the mother’s body into the eyes of a newborn infant. The infection will usually remain in incubation for 1-5 days before an active infection manifests itself. The infant may have symptoms such as swollen eyes or a yellow/green discharge from the eyes.
Gonococcal ophthalmia often goes undiagnosed in infants due to use of antibiotic eye drops closely after birth. In a study done of infants born in Glasgow it was discovered that diagnosis of the presence of the gonorrhea bacteria often went undiagnosed for as long as 30 days after birth. Babies born in the hospital often went undiagnosed much longer than babies born at home. The study estimates that this occurrs due to the fact that the antibacterial eye drops can clear up the symptoms of the problem for several days without actually taking care of the infection. This can lead to a more serious problem and an increased risk of vision loss down the road.
What Can Be Done to Prevent Gonorrhea During Pregnancy?
Pregnant women need to be screened for gonorrhea early in their pregnancies. This gives plenty of time for treatment and retesting before delivery. Many new strains of gonorrhea are resistant to antibiotics which can make it very difficult to treat. Many doctors provide this type of testing as a regular part of their prenatal care, but it never hurts to ask for testing if there is a worry about a potential infection. There are also some precautions that can be taken during pregnancy to keep from getting a gonorrhea infection and putting your infant’s eyesight at risk.
One way to prevent gonorrhea exposure during pregnancy is to avoid sexual contact of any sort. If you are going to have sex it is important to be in a monogamous relationship or faithful marriage with a partner that you know is not infected. Using latex condoms properly every time that sexual contact occurs can also reduce your risk for contracting gonorrhea.
If gonorrhea is discovered during pregnancy it is important to treat it properly before delivery to ensure that the disease will not be passed from mother to child during birth. Antibiotics are typically prescribed to clear up the infection. Symptoms may pass quickly but it is important to continue taking all antibiotics to ensure that the infection has actually been resolved. Both sexual partners should be treated since it is possible to spread the disease back and forth making it more difficult to clear up the gonorrhea. Once the infection has been resolved proper precautions must be taken to ensure that gonorrhea isn’t contracted again since it is possible to be infected by this disease multiple times.
Pregnant women should also take an active role in ensuring that they are receiving the medical care and treatment that is best for them and their newborn. There is nothing wrong with asking for a gonorrhea test during pregnancy. If a pregnant woman notices symptoms of gonorrhea or any other sexually transmitted disease it is important that she immediately report these to her doctor. Changes in vaginal discharge, itching or burning could be signs that a sexually transmitted disease like gonorrhea is present.
It is also important to be very proactive in testing for gonorrhea in expectant women. In one case of neonatal gonorrheal ophthalmia reported to the CDC the father received treatment for gonorrhea only 9 days before the baby was born. The mother of the child was not treated or informed of the father’s condition. If they had known about the infection prior to delivery extra precautions could have been taken and the mother could have received treatment before giving birth.
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