Many expecting mothers are not aware of the risks of prenatal infections (even though they affect more than 50% of adults over 40). One reason is many of these illnesses are not life threatening, so people wrongly assume they can’t hurt you. Family HealthCare Associates would like to recognize “International Prenatal Infection Prevention Month” by setting the record straight: prenatal infections can pose significant dangers to you, and your baby, like organ damage or even death.
What is a prenatal infection? They are bacterial or viral illnesses that are passed down from a mother to her baby during pregnancy, or after birth (through breast milk). There are many types of prenatal infections (like the hepatitis B virus (HBV), hepatitis C virus (HCV), HIV/AIDS, human papillomavirus (HPV), listeriosis, toxoplasmosis, chlamydia, or gonorrhea). Here are the big four, which are most likely to affect you, and your baby.
Cytomegalovirus (CMV) – By far the most common, CMV causes chickenpox, mononucleosis, and herpes simplex. Once you are infected, the virus stays in your body forever and can activate at any time. If you contract CMV while pregnant, you may pass it down to your baby through the placenta, or your breast milk. Twenty percent of babies with CMV may develop hearing loss, vision problems, seizures, or intellectual disabilities.
Zika Virus – Transmitted by Aedes mosquito bites or through unprotected sex, it is passed down to babies in the fetus. The Zika virus can lead to microcephaly, which is a congenital disability, or other severe fetal brain defects. Unfortunately, no vaccine is available for Zika, so the best way to protect yourself is to avoid mosquito bites, and use condoms when having sex.
Group B Streptococcus (GBS) – GBS comes from bacteria naturally found in the body. It’s often not harmful, but GBS can be passed from mothers to their newborns during childbirth and cause sepsis (which is an infection in the blood), meningitis, and pneumonia. GBS can also cause miscarriages, stillborn babies, and even death. The good news is GBS is easily preventable by testing the pregnant mother and administering antibiotics during labor.
What can be done to prevent a prenatal infection?
Here are a few steps that you can take to protect you, and your baby.
Practice Good Hygiene: Wash your hands frequently, and always maintain good hygiene. It’s the number one way to prevent infections of any kind.
Don’t Skip Prenatal Care: If you are pregnant (or planning to get pregnant) it’s crucial that you have medical checkups with your ob-gyn throughout your pregnancy. Several prenatal infections are preventable if they’re treated during pregnancy, and your ob-gyn will be able to spot the warning signs. Be sure to ask your doctor about GBS testing and STD testing.
Watch What You Eat: The CDC recommends avoiding the following foods during pregnancy: foods made with unpasteurized milk, hot dogs and lunch meats (unless heated before serving), meat spreads, refrigerated smoked or undercooked seafood, sushi made with raw fish, and unwashed fruits and vegetables.
Protect Yourself: Watch out for mosquito bites (or any insect bites), while avoiding people who are sick, or have an infection. Practice safe sex and always mask up in crowds.
Get Your Vaccines Before Pregnancy: Maternal vaccines are an integral component of a healthy pregnancy. Vaccine-preventable diseases like hepatitis B, rubella, and varicella pose significant prenatal risks, and maternal immunization can prevent infection. Some vaccines are not recommended to be administered directly prior to, or during pregnancy, so be sure to consult with your physician.
At Family HealthCare Associates we take the health of all of our expecting mothers and their unborn babies extremely seriously, so we hope that these tips will help you have a healthy pregnancy, and baby. If you are experiencing any symptoms during your pregnancy between prenatal checkups, don’t hesitate to schedule an appointment with one of our physicians immediately.