Efficacy of neonatal ocular prophylaxis for the prevention of chlamydial and gonococcal conjunctivitis

N Engl J Med. 1989 Mar 23;320(12):769-72. doi: 10.1056/NEJM198903233201204.


Opinions differ concerning the efficacy of prophylaxis against neonatal chlamydial and gonococcal conjunctivitis. From January 1986 through June 1988, we gave all infants born at Kings County Hospital Medical Center one of three prophylactic agents -- silver nitrate drops, erythromycin ophthalmic ointment, or tetracycline ophthalmic ointment. The treatments were rotated monthly. Gonococcal ophthalmia occurred in 8 of the 12,431 infants born during the study (0.06 percent), 1 in the silver nitrate group, 4 in the erythromycin group, and 3 in the tetracycline group (P not significant). Seven of these infants were born to women who had received no prenatal care. From September 1985 through December 1987, we screened 4357 pregnant women for cervical chlamydial infection, of whom 341 (8 percent) had positive cultures. Of their offspring, 230 were evaluated for neonatal chlamydial conjunctivitis; the incidence was 20 percent in the silver nitrate group, 14 percent in the erythromycin group, and 11 percent in the tetracycline group (P not significant). We conclude that neonatal ocular prophylaxis with either erythromycin or tetracycline ophthalmic ointment does not significantly reduce the incidence of chlamydial conjunctivitis in the offspring of mothers with chlamydial infection as compared with silver nitrate, and that better management of maternal chlamydial infection is therefore required. We also conclude that there is a small but appreciable incidence of neonatal gonococcal ophthalmia that could be prevented by better prenatal screening and treatment of maternal gonococcal infection.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study
  • Controlled Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Chlamydia Infections / diagnosis
  • Chlamydia Infections / prevention & control*
  • Erythromycin / administration & dosage*
  • Female
  • Gonorrhea / diagnosis
  • Gonorrhea / prevention & control*
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Ointments
  • Ophthalmia Neonatorum / prevention & control*
  • Ophthalmic Solutions
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications, Infectious / diagnosis
  • Silver Nitrate / administration & dosage*
  • Tetracycline / administration & dosage*


  • Ointments
  • Ophthalmic Solutions
  • Erythromycin
  • Silver Nitrate
  • Tetracycline