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Acad Emerg Med. 2007 Jan;14(1):1-5. Epub 2006 Nov 21.

Clinical features of bacterial conjunctivitis in children.

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Division of Pediatric Emergency Medicine, Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children, Wilmington, DE, USA.



Conjunctivitis is a common cause of primary care and emergency department (ED) visits. There is a paucity of data in recent literature on the prevalence of pediatric bacterial conjunctivitis, and there are no evidence-based clinical guidelines for empirical treatment. The study objective was to describe clinical features most predictive of bacterial conjunctivitis.


This was a prospective study in a children's hospital ED. Conjunctival swabs for bacterial culture were obtained from patients aged 1 month to 18 years presenting with red or pink eye and/or the diagnosis of conjunctivitis.


A total of 111 patients were enrolled over one year. Patients had a mean (+/-SD) age of 33.2 (+/-37.5) months, and 55% were male. Eighty-seven patients (78%) had positive bacterial cultures. Nontypeable Haemophilus influenzae accounted for 82% (71/87), Streptococcus pneumoniae for 16% (14/87), and Staphylococcus aureus for 2.2% (2/87). Five clinical variables were significantly associated with a positive bacterial culture. Regression analysis revealed that the combination of a history of gluey or sticky eyelids and the physical finding of mucoid or purulent discharge had a posttest probability of 96% (95% confidence interval = 90% to 99%). Subjective scoring by physicians for a positive culture was 50.6%.


Conjunctivitis in children is predominantly bacterial, with nontypeable H. influenzae being the most common organism. A history of gluey or sticky eyelids and physical findings of mucoid or purulent discharge are highly predictive of bacterial infection. Based on the above data, empirical ophthalmic antibiotic therapy may be appropriate in children presenting with conjunctivitis.

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