Chlamydia Infection, Acquired At Birth (Infant)

Chlamydia is a sexually transmitted infection (STI). Some women may not know that they have this infection. If a pregnant woman has undiagnosed chlamydia, she can pass it to her child during birth. This is called chlamydia infection acquired at birth.

In infants, chlamydia most often causes eye infection called conjunctivitis, lung infection called pneumonia, or both. Most newborns are given an antibiotic ointment in their eyes after birth. But this does not prevent a chlamydial infection of the eyes.

With conjunctivitis, the clear covering of the eye and inner lining of the eyelids become red and irritated. The eyelids will be swollen. The eyes will have a watery discharge. This discharge may be white, yellow, or green.

With pneumonia, the child often has a cough. Sometimes, the child may also have a low fever or fast breathing.

When found early, chlamydia in an infant can be treated with antibiotics taken by mouth (oral). In most cases, symptoms go away a few days after the medicine is started.

Home care

Medicines

An antibiotic will likely be prescribed to treat the infection. Follow all instructions for giving the medicine to your child. Be sure to give all of the medicine, even if your child no longer has symptoms. Artificial tears may also be prescribed to ease eye discomfort.

General care

  • Wash your hands well with soap and warm water before and after caring for your child.

  • If your child has an eye infection:

    • Use warm water or artificial tears to rinse the eye every few hours or so while the child is awake. Gently wipe crusts or discharge away from the eyes. Use a wet swab or warm, damp washcloth. When cleaning the eye, wipe from the nose to the outer eye. Use a different cloth for each eye.

    • Try to prevent your child from rubbing his or her eyes.

    • Apply a cool compress (such as a damp washcloth) to the eye as needed. Use a different cloth for each eye. 

  • Care for pneumonia:

    • For children age 1 year and older, have your child sleep in a slightly upright position. This is to help make breathing easier. If possible, raise the head of the bed slightly. Or prop your older child’s body up with pillows. Talk with your healthcare provider about how far to raise your child's head.

    • Never use pillows with or prop up a baby younger than 12 months or put your baby younger than 12 months to sleep on their stomach or side. Babies younger than 1 year should sleep on a flat surface on their back. Don't use car seats, strollers, swings, baby carriers, and baby slings for sleep. If your baby falls asleep in one of these, move them to a flat, firm surface as soon as you can.

    • Ask the provider if you should use a humidifier or vaporizer in your child’s room to help keep the air moist.

  • Wash your child’s sheets and clothes separately from the family’s laundry. This will help prevent spread of the infection.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your child’s healthcare provider as advised.

Special note to parents

Talk with your healthcare provider about getting testing and treatment for your own chlamydia infection.

When to seek medical advice

Call your child's healthcare provider right away if:

  • Your child has a fever (see Fever and children below)

  • Your child has eyelid redness, swelling, and discharge for more than 2 days after starting treatment.

  • Your child has ongoing signs of eye infection, such as redness or swelling of the eyelids or increased drainage from the eyes.

  • Your child is breathing very fast or having trouble breathing.

  • Your child is wheezing or has a cough that won’t go away.

  • Your child’s lips, fingernails, or skin turns blue. This may be a sign that your child is not getting enough oxygen.

  • Your child is not feeding well or not gaining weight.

  • Your child appears very ill or has any other symptoms that concern you.

Fever and children

Always use a digital thermometer to check your child’s temperature. Never use a mercury thermometer.

For infants and toddlers, be sure to use a rectal thermometer correctly. A rectal thermometer may accidentally poke a hole in (perforate) the rectum. It may also pass on germs from the stool. Always follow the product maker’s directions for proper use. If you don’t feel comfortable taking a rectal temperature, use another method. When you talk to your child’s healthcare provider, tell him or her which method you used to take your child’s temperature.

Here are guidelines for fever temperature. Ear temperatures aren’t accurate before 6 months of age. Don’t take an oral temperature until your child is at least 4 years old.

Infant under 3 months old:

  • Ask your child’s healthcare provider how you should take the temperature.

  • Rectal or forehead (temporal artery) temperature of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as directed by the provider

  • Armpit temperature of 99°F (37.2°C) or higher, or as directed by the provider

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