Like the skin, the surface of the eye comes in contact with the outside world and is somewhat prone to infection by bacteria in the environment. Bacterial conjunctivitis (pinkeye) is a condition characterized by inflammation of the conjunctiva, often accompanied by a discharge of sticky fluid (described as acute purulent conjunctivitis). Conjunctivitis can affect one eye or both, and it usually does not affect vision permanently. Bacterial conjunctivitis is most commonly caused by Haemophilus influenzae, but can also be caused by other species such as Moraxella catarrhalis, S. pneumoniae, and S. aureus. The causative agent may be identified using bacterial cultures, Gram stain, and diagnostic biochemical, antigenic, or nucleic acid profile tests of the isolated pathogen. Bacterial conjunctivitis is very contagious, being transmitted via secretions from infected individuals, but it is also self-limiting. Bacterial conjunctivitis usually resolves in a few days, but topical antibiotics are sometimes prescribed. Because this condition is so contagious, medical attention is recommended whenever it is suspected. Individuals who use contact lenses should discontinue their use when conjunctivitis is suspected. Certain symptoms, such as blurred vision, eye pain, and light sensitivity, can be associated with serious conditions and require medical attention.
Newborns whose mothers have certain sexually transmitted infections are at risk of contracting ophthalmia neonatorum or inclusion conjunctivitis, which are two forms of neonatal conjunctivitis contracted through exposure to pathogens during passage through the birth canal. Gonococcal ophthalmia neonatorum is caused by Neisseria gonorrhoeae, the bacterium that causes the STD gonorrhea. Inclusion (chlamydial) conjunctivitis is caused by Chlamydia trachomatis, the anaerobic, obligate, intracellular parasite that causes the STD chlamydia.
To prevent gonoccocal ophthalmia neonatorum, silver nitrate ointments were once routinely applied to all infants’ eyes shortly after birth; however, it is now more common to apply antibacterial creams or drops, such as erythromycin. Most hospitals are required by law to provide this preventative treatment to all infants, because conjunctivitis caused by N. gonorrhoeae, C. trachomatis, or other bacteria acquired during a vaginal delivery can have serious complications. If untreated, the infection can spread to the cornea, resulting in ulceration or perforation that can cause vision loss or even permanent blindness. As such, neonatal conjunctivitis is treated aggressively with oral or intravenous antibiotics to stop the spread of the infection. Causative agents of inclusion conjunctivitis may be identified using bacterial cultures, Gram stain, and diagnostic biochemical, antigenic, or nucleic acid profile tests.
Parker, N., Schneegurt, M., Thi Tu, A.-H., Forster, B. M., & Lister, P. (n.d.). Microbiology. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at: https://openstax.org/details/books/microbiology