On Your Health

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What You Should Know About Pregnancy and Infection

For expectant mothers, keeping your baby safe is the top priority. That’s why it’s important to be aware of potential risks that could put your baby in harm’s way. Contracting an infection can be particularly dangerous for pregnant women because infections can be passed on to the baby during pregnancy, while giving birth or even while breastfeeding. While the common cold is typically safe for expectant mothers, certain infections, if left untreated, can cause severe complications for the baby including birth defects, developmental delays and even death.

We’re covering the most common bacterial and viral infections soon-to-be moms should be aware of, in addition to other potential risks that can lead to dangerous infections in pregnant women. For additional information, check out our recent blog post on vaccines that are safe during pregnancy.

Potentially harmful infections for pregnant women

Here are 10 potentially harmful infections that can put mother and baby at risk. We asked Dr. Katherine Shepherd, an OBGYN at INTEGRIS, to weigh in on a few infections that can have an impact on mothers-to-be.

Chickenpox is a highly contagious virus that can pose serious health risks to your baby if contracted during pregnancy or childbirth. If you are planning to become pregnant and have not already had the chickenpox or been immunized, ask your doctor about the chickenpox vaccine. 

CMV (cytomegalovirus) is a member of the herpes virus group and is typically asymptomatic in children and adults. However, if infants contract CMV from their mothers before birth, the infection can result in enlargement of the liver and spleen, skin problems, vision complications and potential seizures, as well as developing hearing and mental coordination problems after birth. If you are pregnant or may become pregnant, talk to your doctor about getting tested for CMV.

Group B Strep (GBS) is a bacterial infection found in the intestines or lower genital tract. Most women show no symptoms of group B strep, and 25 percent of all healthy women carry the bacteria. This bacterium can be passed to the baby during childbirth, so it’s important to get tested for GBS, usually between weeks 35 and 37 of pregnancy. If you test positive, your physician will most likely recommend giving you an antibiotic through an IV during your delivery to protect your baby.

Hepatitis B is a viral liver disease that can be spread via bodily fluids. Hepatitis B can be passed from mother to baby during vaginal birth or C-section. It’s important to get tested for hepatitis B if you become pregnant. If you test positive, your baby will receive two shots after birth to prevent the spread of the disease.

HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is the virus that causes AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) and can be passed from mother to child during pregnancy, childbirth or while breastfeeding. It’s important for both expectant mothers and their partners to get tested for HIV. Proper prenatal care can significantly reduce the risk of the baby contracting HIV throughout pregnancy.

Influenza, or the flu, can be dangerous for pregnant women because women who are pregnant are more likely to experience severe illness caused by the flu. If you are pregnant, fever caused by the flu may be linked to potential birth defects for your baby. For this reason, it’s important to seek treatment immediately if you experience any flu-like symptoms, including fatigue, body aches, chills, fever, cough, sore throat and gastrointestinal problems. Receiving a flu vaccine during pregnancy is the best way to avoid the risk.

Listeria is a foodborne illness caused by a bacterium called Listeria monocytogenes. Pregnant women have a significantly higher risk of contracting Listeria, and it can be life-threatening to an unborn baby. “This is one of the reasons we recommend women do not eat deli meat or unpasteurized cheese, as pregnant women can put themselves at risk with these foods,” Dr. Shepherd says. It’s also recommended that pregnant women avoid eating refrigerated, smoked seafood and unwashed raw produce.

Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) is a bacterial infection of the urinary tract and is more common for pregnant women as the uterus expands and puts pressure on the bladder. If a UTI is left untreated, it can lead to infection of the kidneys. This may cause early labor and low birth weight. If caught early and treated properly, a UTI will not harm your baby. Signs of a UTI include pain or burning when urinating, more frequent urination, blood in the urine, pain in the lower abdomen and pain during sex.

Toxoplasmosis is an infection caused by a parasite contracted from cat feces. Cats become infected by eating rodents, birds and other small animals. The parasite can be passed to humans via kitty litter or garden soil. Toxoplasmosis can cause serious eye or brain damage to infected newborns at birth. “Pregnant women and their fetuses are at risk of contracting toxoplasmosis from changing kitty litter boxes. Therefore, we recommend pregnant women do not change litter boxes,” Dr. Shepherd says.

Zika is a virus contracted from mosquitoes and transmitted via unprotected sex. “Zika is still present (mostly in the Caribbean) and if contracted, it can cause birth defects such as microcephaly,” Dr. Shepherd says. “So, pregnant women and women who are considering conception should look at the Centers for Disease Control’s website prior to booking travel.”

Expectant mothers deserve only the best care for themselves and their babies. If you have questions about your prenatal, postpartum and newborn care, contact an INTEGRIS Women’s Center today.