Dr. Ran Goldman reviews current research to provide evidence-based responses to physician questions in his column in Canadian Family Physician, the official journal of The College of Family Physicians of Canada. This month, Dr. Goldman and pediatric resident Dr. Adela Matejcek address a question about a routine delivery room procedure.

When babies are born in British Columbia hospitals, the standard of care includes treating all newborns with a topical antibiotic to prevent eye infections that can cause blindness. Physicians and parents alike have wondered: Is the treatment still necessary?

“In my office I occasionally see neonates with conjunctivitis. What are the current recommendations for ocular prophylaxis at birth? Do topical antibiotics alone provide adequate treatment of neonatal conjunctivitis? When is systemic therapy indicated?”

"150 years ago, eye infections in babies were very common," says Dr. Goldman. "Due to the high incidence of STIs at that time, gonococcal opthalmia – an eye infection caused by exposure to gonorrhoea - was the leading cause of blindness in newborns."

Dr. Matejcek, who conducted the literature review that informed this month’s column, says the treatment is still necessary. "In places where the intervention is no longer mandatory, like Europe, and in the developing world where it is not used, we’re seeing this particular type of eye infection more frequently," she says.

Dr. Matejcek compared Canadian Paediatric Society recommendations with her findings and advises parents and physicians that the treatment is safe, effective and should remain part of care for newborns in Canada.

For more information, read Dr. Matejcek’s and Dr. Goldman’s article in Canadian Family Physician.