Pregnant women should be careful not to get viral and bacterial infections. Although some common infections like the common cold or a skin infection don’t usually are not harmful, some infections are a particular concern during pregnancy since they may cause health problems to the mother and the baby. Some infections may lead to serious complications, such as birth defects, preterm birth, low birth weight, hearing loss, or learning problems.
Learning about potentially harmful infections, their symptoms, and what you can do to avoid them will help you to protect your and your baby’s health.
Infections that can cause serious problems during pregnancy include:
Sexually transmitted infections (STI)
Sexually transmitted infections are infections that are passed through sexual contact. Many STIs can be passed to the baby in the womb or during birth. Some effects include stillbirth, low birth weight, and life-threatening infections. STIs also can cause a woman’s water to break too early or preterm labor. Symptoms depend on the STI. Often, a woman has no symptoms, which is why screening for STIs during pregnancy is so important.
STIs can be prevented by practicing safe sex. A woman can keep from passing an STI to her baby by being screened early in pregnancy. Treatments vary depending on the STI. Many STIs are treated easily with antibiotics.
Urinary tract infection (UTI)
Urinary tract infection is a bacterial infection in urinary tract. If untreated, it can spread to the kidneys, which can cause preterm labor. Symptoms can include pain or burning when urinating, frequent urination, pelvis, back, stomach, or side pain, and shaking, chills, fever, sweats.
Doctors treat UTIs with antibiotics.
Bacterial vaginosis is a vaginal infection that is caused by an overgrowth of bacteria normally found in the vagina. BV has been linked to preterm birth and low birth weight babies. Symptoms can include grey or whitish discharge that has a foul, fishy odor, and burning when passing urine or itching. Some pregnant women have no symptoms.
There is no clear method of preventing BV. BV is not passed through sexual contact, although it is linked with having a new or more than one sex partner. Women with symptoms should be tested for BV.
Doctors use antibiotics to treat BV.
Yeast infection is an infection caused by an overgrowth of bacteria normally found in the vagina. Yeast infections are more common during pregnancy than in other times of a woman’s life. They do not threaten the health of your baby. But they can be uncomfortable and difficult to treat in pregnancy. Symptoms can include extreme itchiness in and around the vagina, burning, redness, and swelling of the vagina and the vulva, pain when passing urine or during sex, and a thick, white vaginal discharge that looks like cottage cheese and does not have a bad smell.
Doctors use vaginal creams and suppositories to treat yeast infection during pregnancy.
Cytomegalovirus is a common virus that can cause disease in infants whose mothers are infected with it during pregnancy. CMV infection in infants can lead to hearing loss, vision loss, and other disabilities. Symptoms of BV are mild and can include fever, sore throat, fatigue, and swollen glands. Some women have no symptoms.
Maintaining a good hygiene is the best way to keep from getting CMV.
No vaccine or treatment is currently available.
Group B strep (GBS)
Group B strep is a type of bacteria often found in the vagina and rectum of healthy women. One in four women has it. GBS usually is not harmful to you, but can be deadly to your baby if passed during childbirth. This infection causes no symptoms.
You can keep from passing GBS to your baby by getting tested at 35 to 37 weeks. This simply involves swabbing the vagina and rectum and does not hurt.
If you have GBS, an antibiotic is given to you during labor to protect your baby from infection. Make sure to tell the labor and delivery staff that you are a group B strep carrier when you check into the hospital.
Hepatitis B virus (HBV)
HBV is a viral infection that can be passed to baby during birth. Newborns that get infected with HBV have a 90% chance of developing lifelong infection. This can lead to liver damage and liver cancer. A vaccine can keep newborns from getting HBV. Mostly there may be no symptoms. When symptoms occur, they can include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dark urine and pale bowel movements, and whites of eyes or skin looks yellow. Lab tests can find out if the mother is a carrier of hepatitis B.
You can protect your baby for life from HBV with the hepatitis B vaccine, which is a series of three shots. First dose of hepatitis B vaccine plus HBIG shot is given to baby at birth. Second dose of hepatitis B vaccine is given to baby at 1-2 months old. Third dose of hepatitis B vaccine is given to baby at 6 months old (but not before 24 weeks old).
Influenza is a common viral infection that is more likely to cause severe illness in pregnant women than in women who are not pregnant. Pregnant woman with flu also have a greater chance for serious problems for their unborn baby, including premature labor and delivery. Symptoms can include fever (sometimes) or feeling feverish/chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches, feeling tired, vomiting and diarrhea (sometimes).
Getting a flu shot is the first and most important step in protecting against flu. The flu shot given during pregnancy is safe and has been shown to protect both the mother and her baby (up to 6 months old) from flu. (The nasal spray vaccine should not be given to women who are pregnant.)
If you get sick with flu-like symptoms call your doctor right away. If needed, the doctor will prescribe an antiviral medicine that treats the flu.
Listeriosis is an infection with the harmful bacteria called listeria. It is found in some refrigerated and ready-to-eat foods. Infection can cause early delivery or miscarriage. Symptoms can include fever, muscle aches, chills, sometimes diarrhea or nausea, and if progresses, severe headache and stiff neck.
This infection is best prevented by avoid foods that can harbor listeria. Doctors use antibiotics to treat listeriosis.
Parvovirus B19 (fifth disease)
Most pregnant women who are infected with this virus do not have serious problems. But there is a small chance the virus can infect the fetus. This raises the risk of miscarriage during the first 20 weeks of pregnancy. Fifth disease can cause severe anemia in women who have red blood cell disorders like sickle cell disease or immune system problems. Symptoms can include low-grade fever, tiredness, rash on face, trunk, and limbs, and painful and swollen joints.
There is no vaccine to help prevent infection with this virus. There is no specific treatment for fifth disease, except for blood transfusions that might be needed for people who have problems with their immune systems or with red blood cell disorders.
Toxoplasmosis is caused by a parasite, which is found in cat feces, soil, and raw or undercooked meat. If passed to an unborn baby, the infection can cause hearing loss, blindness, or intellectual disabilities. Mild flu-like symptoms can occur. Sometimes there are no symptoms.
You can lower your risk for toxoplasmosis by washing hands with soap after touching soil or raw meat, washing produce before eating, cooking meat completely, washing cooking utensils with hot, soapy water, and not cleaning cats’ litter boxes.
Medicines are used to treat a pregnant woman and her unborn baby. Sometimes, the baby is treated with medicine after birth.