Background: Ophthalmia neonatorum still blinds approximately 10,000 babies annually worldwide. Identification of contributory maternal perinatal factors could possibly predict which babies are at greater risk for this disease.
Methods: In a randomized prospective study of ophthalmia neonatorum in Kenya, we studied the effect of prophylaxis with povidone-iodine, silver nitrate, and erythromycin in 3117 neonates. Four perinatal factors that may promote ophthalmia neonatorum were investigated: maternal vaginitis, birth in a nonsterile environment, presence of meconium at birth, and postnatal development of endometritis.
Results: No significant difference in the general ophthalmia neonatorum rate was found for any of the four factors (P > .14 by Fisher exact test). However, with regard to venereal ophthalmia neonatorum, the 26 infants born to mothers with vaginitis had a relative risk 5.1 times that of the rest of the infants (P = 0.0013). Their relative risk to develop gonococcal ophthalmia neonatorum in particular was 24.9 times the rest of the neonates (P = 0.0000031). Prophylaxis was with povidone-iodine in 12 infants, silver nitrate in two, and erythromycin in 12. The frequency of ophthalmia neonatorum was 25%, 100%, and 33%, respectively (differences not significant).
Conclusion: Neonates born to mothers with vaginitis should be carefully observed for the first postnatal month for the development of ophthalmia neonatorum, even though a prophylactic agent has been used.