Maternal Infections

Getting the proper prenatal care is important for the health of both your infant and you. While pregnant, if an infection develops or a pre-existing infection isn’t diagnosed and treated, not only is the mother at risk of additional health issues, but the baby is at risk for a series of serious medical problems.

Types of Maternal Infections That Can Cause Birth Injuries

Not all maternal infections or illnesses will cause birth injuries, such as the common cold or a stomach bug. Yet, other infections, if left untreated, can become extremely dangerous to unborn babies. The following infections are some of the most common and most dangerous when not diagnosed and treated:

Rubella

Rubella, also known as German Measles, was once a common childhood virus, marked by a unique red rash on the body. However, once rubella vaccinations became common in the United States in the mid 1960s, the rate of children developing rubella greatly decreased.

Pregnant women should always be tested as early as possibly during her pregnancy to ensure she was vaccinated and immune to the virus. If not, an early pregnancy vaccination can prevent the devastating risks of rubella.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), advanced techniques in diagnosing techniques should always be used in order to detect and treat rubella, although some physicians may undergo this if they think it will harm an unborn baby. Yet, the consequences of an infant contracting rubella from the mother is far more severe, and can include hearing and vision problems, brain inflammation, cerebral palsy, restriction of intrauterine growth, congenital heart disease, stillbirth, miscarriage, and diabetes later on in life.

If the mother is vaccinated early in the pregnancy, there is a 90% chance that the virus will not affect the infant. The longer the mother goes through pregnancy without being treated, however, the lower the chances become.

Chicken Pox

Chicken pox, know formally as varicella, is often thought of as a mild childhood disease that eventually goes away on its own. For unborn infants, babies under one year of age, and people over 15 years of age, however, chicken pox can lead to serious health issues, including:

  • Congenital Varicella Syndrome (CVS)
  • Pneumonia
  • Scarring
  • Vision issues
  • Developmental delays
  • Cognitive disabilities

According to the Organization for Teratology Information Service (OTIS), if chicken pox happens during the first trimester of pregnancy, the risks for birth injuries are %1 and less. The further along in the pregnancy, the higher the chances that chicken pox will result in birth injuries.

For example, between the 13th and 20th week of pregnancy, the risk of injuries increases to 2%. Women who have chicken pox during delivery have a 25% chance of the baby contracting CVS. If you’ve never been vaccinated against chicken pox and you’re pregnant, it’s important that your physician right away. A vaccination, typically zoster immune globulin if you’ve been exposed to someone who has chicken pox or a chicken pox vaccine, is administered.

Group B Strep

Group B Strep (GBS) is a bacterial infection that affects up to 25% of all healthy women. GBS can be found in the gastrointestinal, vaginal, and/or rectal area, and if not treated, can be passed on to the infant, resulting in complications such as brain injuries, sepsis, pneumonia, and in extreme cases, stillborn death.

Unfortunately, GBS is often difficult to detect at first as there are no symptoms. Per the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), it’s important to get tested for GBS as soon as possible, which typically consists of a swab that’s taken to a culture lab for analysis. GBS is not a sexually-transmitted disease, and as mentioned earlier, healthy women are just as prone to the infection as anyone else, so testing and if applicable, treatment, should be done immediately.

Syphilis

Caused by by spirochete bacterium, syphilis is a sexually-transmitted disease that can be transferred to an infant during pregnancy or during the birthing process via sores or the placenta. It’s an extremely dangerous infection for infants as it can lead to fetal distress, vision and hearing loss, teeth malformations, neurological issues, low birth weight, neonatal death, and stillbirth. 

Syphilis may lie dormant in the body only to surface years or decades later. However, if caught early on, it can possibly be cured with Penicillin. Pregnant women should always be tested for syphillis as soon as possible during an early prenatal appointment.

Toxoplasmosis

Toxoplasmosis is a parasitic infection most commonly caused by contact with parasites found in certain raw or under-cooked meats, cat feces, and soil. Pregnant women may experience mild flu-like symptoms or no symptoms at all, therefore taking proper precautions should as washing hands thoroughly, cooking meats completely, washing foods in hot water, and staying away from cat feces (including changing the litter box) is extremely important.

Toxoplasmosis can be transferred to an unborn baby, resulting in the risk of intellectual disabilities, hearing loss, and blindness.

Physicians should monitor and treat pregnant women with antibiotics used to eliminate the infection. Medication is given during pregnancy and in some instances, the infant will continue to receive treatment after birth.

Urinary Tract Infection

A urinary tract infection (UTI), is a bacterial infection in the urethra or the bladder, is marked by a strong urge to urinate, cloudy-colored urine, pelvic pain, and a burning sensation when urinating.

If treated, a UTI usually won’t pose any serious problems for an unborn infant. Yet if left untreated, a UTI can spread to the kidneys which can lead to preterm labor, which is associated with a myriad of infant health problems. UTIs are almost always treated with antibiotics.

Hepatitis B Virus

The hepatitis B virus (HBV) caused by hepatitis b, is extremely dangerous when passed along to a baby during birth. In fact, newborns have around a 90% chance of developing lifelong health issues, including liver damage and liver cancer. Pregnant should always be tested as early in the pregnancy as possible, and if applicable, a vaccination should be administered. If early testing and treatment wasn’t given, physicians should make sure to test before delivery, as as the virus is passed along during childbirth.