Prenatal infection prevention was created to spread awareness to protect future mothers. February is International Prenatal Infection Prevention Month, a month to raise awareness of prenatal infections and prevent them.
Although not frequently talked about, prenatal infections are common. They can be the cause of minor and severe health problems for mother and baby. Prenatal infections can increase the risk of preterm birth, cause development delay in the fetus, organ damage, and even death.
It is common for people to be unaware of the risks that prenatal infections represent since some of these infections are “low risk” for an adult. Still, they can pose significant dangers when contracted by a pregnant woman.
Types of Prenatal Infections
The first step in prenatal infection prevention is to get to know the risk. There are many types of prenatal infections; however, there are four that are particularly common and dangerous, these are:
This is the most common congenital viral infection. According to the CDC, by the age of 40, more than half of adults will have had a CMV infection.
CMV is a common virus related to the virus that causes chickenpox, herpes simplex, and mononucleosis. Usually, a person’s immune system keeps the virus from causing illness. Once a person is infected, the virus stays in their body forever and can activate at any time, causing symptoms. However, most people have no symptoms and therefore are unaware they were infected.
If a mother becomes infected during pregnancy, she can pass the CMV virus to her child through the placenta. When the infection occurs after birth, the mother can still infect her baby through breast milk.
One out of five babies infected with CMV experience health problems that can include:
- Hearing loss
- Intellectual disability
- Vision problems
- Lack of coordination
An infection caused by the bacteria listeria monocytogenes, which humans can ingest via contaminated food.
Pregnant women are ten times more likely to get listeriosis. This infection can cause preterm birth, stillbirth, miscarriage, and newborn deaths.
The CDC recommends avoiding the following foods during pregnancy:
- Unpasteurized milk and foods made with unpasteurized milk
- Hot dogs and lunch meats, unless heated until steaming hot before serving,
- Meat spreads and refrigerated pate
- Refrigerated smoked or undercooked seafood
- Sushi made with raw fish
- All unwashed raw products such as fruits and vegetables
Probably one of the most widely known because of the outbreak that took place a few years back.
Zika is transmitted by the bite of an infected Aedes mosquito and can also be sexually transmitted between humans and passed from a pregnant mother to her fetus.
The infection can cause a congenital disability called microcephaly and other severe fetal brain defects. No vaccine is currently available, which is why protection from mosquito bites and the use of condoms is the best prevention.
Group B streptococcus (GBS)
These are bacteria naturally found in the body, particularly in the gastrointestinal and genital tracts. Usually not harmful, but they can cause serious illness.
GBS can be passed from mothers to their newborns during childbirth and can cause sepsis (infection in the blood), meningitis, and pneumonia.
GBS can also cause miscarriages, stillborn babies, and even death after birth. The good news is, GBS disease is easily preventable by testing the pregnant mother. If the result is positive, the mother will be given antibiotics during labor.
We have mentioned the four most common prenatal infections. However, many other infections could affect mother and child, including sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV.
Preventing Pregnancy Infections
The second step in prenatal infection prevention is to take action. It is vital that pregnant women and those planning to get pregnant undergo complete medical checkups with their ob-gyn ideally before getting pregnant and throughout the pregnancy.
There are simple steps that you can take to protect your baby from infections that can cause serious health problems:
-Hygiene: This is always the number one tip for preventing infections of any kind. Wash your hands frequently and maintain, in general, good hygiene.
-Prenatal care: Several infections are preventable when diagnosed and treated during pregnancy. The ob-gyn will know what to look for and recognize warning signs that the expecting mother may not recognize. Ask your doctor about GBS testing and STD testing.
-Nutrition: Maintaining balanced nutrition is always essential for the health of mother and baby. However, it is also important to avoid unpasteurized milk and foods made from it. Pregnant women should also avoid raw fish and uncooked meat or poultry. Make sure to wash all your vegetables and fruits carefully.
-Protect yourself: Take the necessary measures to protect yourself from mosquito bites and insect bites in general, avoid people who are sick or combating an infection. Avoid crowds and practice social distancing.
When to Visit Your OB-GYN
If you are experiencing any unexpected symptoms during your pregnancy between prenatal checkups, do not hesitate to call your doctor. Schedule an appointment immediately if you believe you’ve been exposed to a contagious disease.
At Women’s OB/GYN center, we take the health of expecting mothers and their unborn babies very seriously. That is why we provide the safest, most convenient locations for you during your pregnancy.