Guarding Against Disease During Pregnancy

While protecting yourself from disease is important at all times, it becomes especially necessary during pregnancy when a baby is in critical stages of development. Having an infectious disease during pregnancy can result in severe and chronic problems in a newborn.

The following provides an overview of several infectious diseases; Openly discuss any relevant history of these diseases or concerns with your provider.

  • Toxoplasmosis - Toxoplasmosis is an infectious disease that you can get from eating raw meat or having been exposed to infected excretions of household pets such as cats, rabbits, and birds. For a pregnant woman, this infection may produce no symptoms at all or may include fever, chills, headache, rash, or muscular pain. Diagnosis can be made from a blood test. The impact of Toxoplasmosis is much more severe for your developing baby. This infection can result in miscarriage, stillbirth, or birth of an infected infant who may suffer from vision loss, hearing loss, mental retardation, or abnormal skull or brain development. The following precautions will help you avoid Toxoplasmosis:

    • Cook all meat thoroughly
    • Wash your hands after touching raw meat, and avoid touching your eyes or mucous membranes while preparing meat
    • Wash all kitchen surfaces with soap that comes in contact with uncooked meat
    • Wear gloves or even better; avoid contact with rabbits, cat feces (including litter boxes and contaminated gardening soil), and birdcages
  • Rubella - Rubella, or German measles, is a common infectious disease that approximately 15% of women are susceptible to. While the rash and fever from this infection usually pass quickly and complete recovery for the mother is expected, rubella may have serious effects on a developing baby. This includes congenital heart disease, eye lesions such as cataracts and glaucoma, hearing defects and deafness, liver conditions such as jaundice, mental retardation, cerebral palsy, diabetes, blood defects such as anemia, and genetic problems. Pregnant women who are not immune to rubella are advised to avoid exposure to infected individuals and avoid travel to area of the world where people are not routinely immunized against rubella. If you are not immune, talk to our doctors and nurses about being vaccinated after your baby is born.

  • Cytomegalovirus (CMV) - Pregnant women often show no signs of having CMV, but infants born with this infection of cellular tissue may experience eye and ear problems, learning disabilities, mental retardation, and liver problems. CMV can be contracted from infected blood, saliva, urine, semen, cervical secretions, and breast milk. No treatment or preventive vaccine is available. Be sure to talk about CMV with our doctors and nurses especially if you:

    • Work in a dialysis center or with patients who have immune system disorders
    • Work in a nursery or day-care center
    • Plan to breast-feed
  • Hepatitis B Virus (BVV) - Because of the widespread incidence of Hepatitis B, women are screened during pregnancy for this virus, and newborns are routinely given HBV immunizations as soon as possible after birth. Hepatitis B can cause liver inflammation and related problems. Symptoms include jaundice, lethargy, loss of appetite, vomiting, and fever. HBV may be contracted from infected blood, saliva, and semen. The risk of contracting this disease is increased by the use of illicit intravenous drugs, sexual contact with one ore more partners, and blood transfusions. Talk with your doctor/midwife about Hepatitis B if you are:

    • A healthcare professional who handles blood, blood products, or body fluids
    • A staff member of an institution for the mentally retarded
    • A kidney dialysis patient or an employee of a dialysis center
    • A patient with a blood-clotting disorder who receives clotting factor concentrates
    • Living with an HBV carrier
    • Planning to breast-feed
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases - Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are of particular concern to pregnant women. STDs are infectious diseases spread through sexual contact with an infected person. This person may have few or no symptoms and may not realize they are infected. A women can pass a sexually transmitted disease on to her baby at various times, including during pregnancy, while giving birth, or when breast feeding.

  • Vaginal Infections - The vagina normally contains harmless bacteria. In pregnancy, however, hormonal changes can alter vaginal secretions and leave the vagina susceptible to infection. Three of these include:

    • Candida - Candida (yeast infection) is characterized by a cheese-like, white discharge and itching. If you are taking certain prescribed antibiotics during pregnancy, you may be more susceptible to this infection. Be aware, too, that a pregnant woman can have a vaginal yeast infection, yet have few or very mild symptoms. Notify our doctors and nurses if you have even minor irritation or slight changes in vaginal discharge.
    • Chlamydia - Chlamydia is the most common sexually transmitted disease. Maternal symptoms of infection are often not present, but may include burning during urination and painful intercourse. Chlamydia may be passed on to a baby during deliver, and can result in an eye infection or pneumonia.
    • Trichomonas - Symptoms include vaginal itching and irritation, and yellow, foul-smelling discharge.
  • Gonorrhea - Maternal symptoms of gonorrhea are varied, ranging from none to some yellow vaginal discharge or abnormal vaginal bleeding. The gonorrhea infection is passed on to a baby during birth and causes an eye infection that could lead to blindness.

  • Syphilis - A blood test is done early in pregnancy and may be repeated just before delivery to determine possible infection with syphilis (since many women with the disease will have no symptoms). Nearly 100% of babies of syphilis-infected mothers develop the disease, and symptoms can appear at birth or months or years later. These babies can suffer vision damage or loss, dental and bone deformities, brain damage, and even death.

  • Genital Warts - This infection, whose clinical name is Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), is common in pregnancy and may be located in the vulva, vagina, or cervix. Because of hormone changes that occur during pregnancy, warts develop and can grow in size and number, bleed, or make delivery more difficult (Cesarean section is often recommended if warts are present in the birth canal). In a few instances, babies exposed to HPV during birth may develop warts in their eyes or throats, causing vision, vocal, or respiratory problems.

  • Genital Herpes - Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV) Type II often exhibits no symptoms when dormant (inactive), but painful blisters or bumps may develop near or inside the vagina or rectum during an outbreak. There is no cure for Herpes II and symptoms may recur again and again. Babies most often acquire this infection at delivery, causing painful blisters on the skin, and damage to eyes, other internal organs, and the brain (leading to mental retardation). If it is suspected you have active herpes lesions, Cesarean birth is most often advised to avoid exposing the baby to the infection.

  • HIV (human Immune Deficiency Virus) and AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) - The often symptomless HIV causes AIDS, which is the life-threatening illness that is the most serious result of this viral infection. The infection poses a great danger to a baby during pregnancy due to placental circulation. Many babies whose mothers have HIV will acquire the infection and develop AIDS during early childhood. HIV has been found in breast milk, therefore, it is safest for HIV-positive mothers not to breast feed. Protect yourself and your baby by openly reviewing all of your important health information and sexual experiences with your doctor/midwife.

Reprinted with permission from Her Healthcare.