February is Prenatal Infection Prevention Month, an observance to promote the awareness of infections transmitted from the mother to the baby. If you are pregnant or planning to have a baby in the future, it is important to learn about prenatal infection prevention. Prenatal infections are maternal infections which can be passed to the foetus through the placenta during pregnancy.
Some of these infections can be very serious and may cause premature delivery, miscarriage or stillbirth. This article will examine the causes of the most common prenatal infections, look at some warning signs and explain the most important recommendations for prenatal infection prevention.
Here are some of the most common prenatal infections and what can be done to avoid them:
1. Group B Strep (GBS)
The bacteria that can cause this infection is very common with about 25% of women carrying it. Normally it isn’t harmful and it won’t make you or anyone around you sick. However, it can be very dangerous to newborn babies, who can get sick or die if the bacteria are passed to them during childbirth.
Your general practitioner or obstetrician will test you for the bacteria and if you have it, you will receive antibiotics to avoid passing it on to your child.
2. Cytomegalovirus (CMV)
CMV can be passed from mother to child during pregnancy. Many infants who are infected with CMV will not have symptoms; however some can develop very serious health problems including vision loss, hearing loss or mental problems.
This virus is transmitted via bodily fluids including saliva, urine and blood. CMV is secreted by children more than adults, so it is more likely for a pregnant woman to become infected from a child with CMV. For this reason, pregnant women should avoid kissing children on the lips, sharing food with children, wiping children noses, changing diapers and any other activity that exposes them to bodily fluids.
Pregnant women should also use hand sanitiser, particularly when in public places or around children.
This is a very rare, but dangerous infection that can occur after eating food contaminated with the Listeria bacteria. Pregnant women are very susceptible to these bacteria and can very easily become sick from eating foods with the bacteria.
Women who are infected with listeriosis may experience fever, nausea, fatigue and general aches. It is very dangerous for a pregnant woman to have listeriosis and it can result in the premature delivery, miscarriage or stillbirth of their baby. The bacterial infection can also be passed onto the child.
To avoid getting this illness, avoid foods that may contain the bacteria, including:
- Soft cheeses
- Raw milk
- Delicatessen meats and heavily processed meats
- Raw or undercooked fish and smoked seafood
If those foods are used in the household by other people, it is important that pregnant women not be exposed to surfaces where the food has been. If you are infected, it is important that you receive antibiotics as soon as possible.
This is an infection caused by the salmonella bacteria. The salmonella bacteria usually live in human or animal intestines and is spread through contaminated food or water. Symptoms include fever, abdominal cramps, muscle pain and diarrhea.
During pregnancy, this infection can cause a range of health problems for your baby including:
- Bacteremia (bacteria in the blood) which can lead to a range of problems including meningitis
- Reiter’s syndrome, a condition that causes swelling in the joints
5. Congenital toxoplasmosis
This condition is caused by the parasite Toxoplasma gondii. If the mother is infected with this parasite, it can spread to the baby via the placenta. The parasite may not cause any serious health problems in the mother, but it can have serious health implications for the baby including permanent eye damage, hearing loss, vomiting, enlarged liver or spleen, intellectual disability, and jaundice.
The parasite can be killed in the mother with anti-parasitic medication, but the condition must be diagnosed as early as possible.
Prenatal Infection Prevention Steps
In general terms, the measures that every pregnant woman should take to minimise their risk of prenatal infection include:
- Avoiding soft cheeses and unpasteurised foods
- Cooking all meats thoroughly, avoiding deli meats and processed meats like hot dogs
- Avoiding uncooked or undercooked eggs
- Avoiding places where bacteria may be present including outdoor sandboxes, cat litter boxes, garden beds, compost piles
- Don’t share food, cups or drinking utensils, particularly with children
- Avoid raw sprouts
Pregnant women should also have regular health checkups and prenatal exams throughout their pregnancy.
You should immediately tell your doctor if you experience symptoms including abdominal pain, nausea, dizziness, rashes, fever, vomiting, diarrhea, racing heart, loss of consciousness, persistent vaginal bleeding/discharge or shortness of breath.
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