Article Text

Download PDFPDF

Gonococcal orbital cellulitis
  1. Inês Oliveira1,
  2. Ana Mouzinho2 and
  3. José Gonçalo Marques2
  1. 1 Pediatrics Department, Hospital de São Bernardo, Setubal, Portugal
  2. 2 Infectious Diseases Unit, Department of Paediatrics, Centro Hospitalar Lisboa Norte EPE, Lisboa, Portugal
  1. Correspondence to Dr Inês Oliveira, inesfigueiredoliveira{at}

Statistics from

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.


A 17-year-old healthy boy presented to the emergency room with conjunctival hyperemia, purulent discharge and periorbital swelling of the right eye, lasting for 4 days, without improvement with topical chloramphenicol. On the day of admission, he started ocular pain and photophobia. There was no history of eyelid trauma, sinusitis or fever.

On examination, he presented periorbital swelling, proptosis, chemosis, purulent discharge, hyperemia and conjunctival petechiae of the right eye (figure 1). Ocular movements were maintained, but painful. He also had purulent urethral discharge, lasting for 3 weeks.

Figure 1

Periorbital swelling, proptosis, purulent discharge, hyperemia of the right eye.

The blood work showed a slight increase on C-reactive protein (3.99 mg/dL—ULN 0.5 mg/dL). The CT scan of the orbits revealed postseptal extension of the inflammatory process affecting extra and intraconical fat (figure 2). A diagnosis of right orbital cellulitis (OC) was made. Assuming gonococcal oetiology for both urethritis and OC, he started on intravenous (IV) ceftriaxone and topical levofloxacin and was given a single dose of oral azithromycin, for potential chlamydia coinfection. The culture from both conjunctival and urethral swabs identified a non-penicillinase-producing strain of Neisseria gonorrhoeae, susceptible to the therapy in course. Polymerase chain reaction for Chlamydia trachomatis in the urethral discharge was also positive. Blood cultures were sterile. He was discharged after 8 days of IV and topical therapy, with regression of ocular inflammatory signs and urethral exudate. Follow-up showed no sequels. HIV and syphilis serologies were negative. He denied unprotected sex, but the sexual partner was notified and treated.

Figure 2

Orbital CT scan showing protrusion of the right orbit.

OC is a common finding in paediatrics, usually resulting from sinus or dental infections, trauma or conjunctivitis. The most frequent pathogens in bacterial orbital cellulitis are gram-positive cocci, such as Staphylococcus aureus and Streptococcus species and gram-negative bacilli like Haemophilus influenzae. 1 Here we present the case of an healthy adolescent with gonococcal OC, which is a rare manifestation in the paediatric age especially outside the neonatal period and in immunocompetent children, with very few cases reported (table 1).2

Table 1

Reported cases of preseptal and postseptal gonococcal cellulitis, with only one postseptal case in paediatric age

The OC was probably due to self-inoculation from gonococcal urethritis. N. gonorrhoeae is an uncommon cause of OC in the paediatric age. Nevertheless, we should consider this aetiology, especially in sexually active adolescents, since it may be associated with severe manifestations, such as ulceration and perforation of the cornea.3 It is essential to suspect and treat the disease early, and also to ensure follow-up of these adolescents and to reinforce safe behaviours.

Learning points

  • Gonoccocal orbital cellulitis is rare in paediatric age, but should be suspected in sexually active adolescents when associated with urethritis.

  • Prompt diagnosis and treatment are important to prevent complications, such as ulceration and perforation of the cornea


  1. 1.
  2. 2.
  3. 3.
  4. 4.
  5. 5.
  6. 6.
  7. 7.


  • Contributors IO did data acquisition, writing and approval of the manuscript. AM did revision and approval of the manuscript. JGM did interpretation of the data, revision and approval of the manuscript.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Patient consent for publication Parental/guardian consent obtained.