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Pregnancy Infection - Causes and Vaccination

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Women are susceptible to infections during pregnancy, which may rarely harm the fetus. Read this article to know more about it.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Richa Agarwal

Published At January 24, 2023
Reviewed AtJune 5, 2023

Introduction:

Pathogenic microorganisms, such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites, can directly or indirectly cause infectious diseases. Some may be harmless but some may cause serious complications, especially in low-immune individuals. Pregnant women are the most common group of people susceptible to infections. The cause of infection susceptibility is the change in the woman's immune status during pregnancy. The infections can also cause complications in the fetus. Hence prevention, early detection, and treatment are essential to deduct complications.

What Are the Infections Caused During Pregnancy?

Infections that affect pregnant women are:

  • Bacterial Vaginosis: A common vaginal infection increases the risk of sexually transmitted infections. It usually occurs in women of reproductive age. The condition occurs due to an imbalance of naturally occurring bacteria in the vagina and unprotected sex.

  • Chlamydia: It is a common infection evident in pregnant women but with no symptoms. Hence doctors recommend screening for chlamydia infection early during pregnancy to prevent serious complications, such as preterm birth and pneumonia in the baby.

  • Cytomegalovirus: It can spread through contact with body fluids and sexual contact. Once the organism enters the human body, it stays for a lifetime and gets reactivated when immune levels are low. The pregnant woman with cytomegalovirus does not show symptoms but can transmit the infection to the fetus, which causes intellectual disabilities and hearing and vision loss. The presence of cytomegalovirus in the baby can be identified in its saliva, blood, and urine.

  • Gonorrhea: The infection can get transmitted from the infected mother to the fetus during labor through the birth canal. And if the infection is untreated, the fetus can develop blindness.

  • Group B Streptococcus: Pregnant women must be screened for group B Streptococcus, and antibiotics can be provided to halt the infection's spread.

  • Hepatitis B: The risk of the virus affecting the infant depends on the time the mother got infected. If the time of infection is early during pregnancy, the risks are lesser, and the risk is high if the mother acquires infection in a later period. The infection can damage the infant’s liver. Hence the baby born to an infected mother receives a hepatitis B hyperimmune globulin immediately after birth.

  • Rubella: It can cause severe problems in pregnancy and congenital disabilities in infants. Hence women planning for pregnancy should be vaccinated against rubella.

  • Lyme Disease: It is caused by Borrelia and transmitted through tick bites.

  • Syphilis: Pregnant women are screened for syphilis during the first trimester. However, women at high risk can be screened during the third trimester because syphilis can spread quickly from the mother to the fetus and affects various organs of the infants.

  • Toxoplasmosis: It is caused by parasites present in the cat feces. Humans are rarely affected, but if an infected mother transmits the infection to the fetus, it can cause blindness and intellectual disabilities.

  • Zika: It can spread through mosquito bites and sexual contact. Initial symptoms may be mild but can cause severe congenital disabilities.

How Do Infections During Pregnancy Affect the Fetus?

Maternal infections can affect the developing baby, but the extent to which they get affected cannot be predetermined.

Three ways in which the baby is affected are:

  1. Reducing the mother’s ability to nurture the baby.

  2. Causing congenital abnormalities.

  3. Premature labor or miscarriage.

Infections and their effects are as follows.

infections-during-pregnancy

The vaccines recommended for pregnant women in normal routine are:

  • COVID-19.

  • Hepatitis A.

  • Hepatitis B.

  • Influenza.

  • Meningococcal.

  • Polio.

  • Tdap (Tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis).

The vaccines recommended if women travel during pregnancy are:

Most vaccines on the list are not mandatory but are recommended if the individual is at risk of exposure or post-exposure to prevent reinfection.

How to Prevent Infections Before and During Pregnancy?

The preventive measures to prevent pregnancy before and during pregnancy are:

  • Maintain Hygiene: Washing hands with soap and water before and after eating, using the toilet, and blowing the nose. Use a hand sanitizer to prevent contamination of germs.

  • Food Habits: Eat cooked meat and not reheat food items often. Avoid consuming processed and junk foods. Avoid drinking raw milk and food items as they contain harmful bacteria.

  • Ask the Doctor: Group B streptococcus can be present in many women but with no symptoms. Hence a swab test has to perform to determine the presence of bacteria before labor to protect the baby from acquiring the infection during labor. In addition, ask the doctor about the vaccines recommended before and during pregnancy and after delivery.

  • Test for Sexually Transmitted Infections: Some individuals may have sexually transmitted diseases during pregnancy but may not have symptoms. Hence a test for sexually transmitted infections has to be conducted to identify the diseased state and protect against harm to the fetus.

  • Stay Away From the Infected: Avoid contact with known infected people during pregnancy. Be cautious while handling their belongings. For example, wear a mask, avoid touching and crowding, and follow social distancing to prevent COVID-19 infection.

  • Protect Against Insects: Zika virus can be transmitted by infected mosquitos, which can cause congenital disabilities. Lyme disease can be due to tick bites, which can cause severe complications if not identified and treated. So protect from insects by wearing fully covered clothes, using insect repellents, and avoiding long travels.

  • Avoid Contact With the Contaminated: Avoid touching the contaminated soil with bare hands. Instead, use gloves and wash your hands with soap and water after handling the soil.

Conclusion:

Infections affecting the pregnant woman may be benign but they may cause complications if left untreated or undetected for a long time. Hence during pregnancy, women are suggested to visit the specialist regularly to monitor the signs and symptoms of infections. Regular monitoring facilitates the prevention and treatment of infections at an early stage and prevents further complications for the mother and the baby.

Frequently Asked Questions

1.

What Is the Common Type of Infection in Pregnancy?

The common type of infection that occurs during pregnancy include,


- Group B streptococcus.


- Vaginal yeast infections.


- Listeria.


- Flu.


- Uterine infections.

2.

How to Reduce the Infection During Pregnancy?

Pregnant women can lower the risk of infection from the transmission of viruses by,


- Avoid traveling.


- Wash hands with water and soap after using the bathroom.


- Avoiding direct contact with urine and saliva.


- Stay away from people with infection.


- Take antibiotics as per the physician's advice.

3.

Is It Possible for a Pregnant Woman to Contract an Infection?

Most infections that arise during pregnancy, such as respiratory, urinary, and skin infections, do not result in any major complications. But, certain illnesses that occur during pregnancy might harm the growing fetus and the mother. They may result in severe disease, congenital abnormalities, and permanent impairments like learning difficulties or hearing loss.

4.

What Is Pregnancy-Related Infectious Disease?

Pathogenic microorganisms, such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites, are the source of infectious diseases. These microorganisms can spread either directly or indirectly through a variety of pathways. Influenza, eczema, vaginal yeast infections, herpes, bacterial vaginosis (BV), uterine infections, listeria, and group B streptococcus (GBS) are the frequent illnesses that arise during pregnancy.

5.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Infection in Pregnant Women?

There could be a higher chance of infection due to changes in immunological function during pregnancy. A high fever, a chronic cough, and an absence of taste and smell are the major symptoms. Some data indicate that infection during pregnancy increases the risk of serious illness, particularly in the third trimester.

6.

Which Infection Is the Cause of Miscarriage?

Gonorrhea infection, which is left untreated during pregnancy, has been associated with early rupture of the membranes around the fetus in the uterus, low birth weight and preterm birth, and infection of the fluid surrounding the fetus during pregnancy. The other risks include,


- HIV.


- Cytomegalovirus.


- Rubella.


- Chlamydia.


- Syphilis.


- Malaria.


- Bacterial vaginosis.

7.

Does an Infection Affect the Baby?

A fetal infection, which can arise before birth, is caused by an infection in the mother. Pregnancy-related infections can be harmful because they can result in complications, including epilepsy, learning disabilities, impaired vision or blindness, and hearing loss. If the pregnant woman has never had CMV (cytomegalovirus) before, the infection creates a significant risk to the unborn child.

8.

Does an Infection Cause Delay in Pregnancy?

Yes, some infections of the vagina can lead to problems with fertility which might cause a delay in pregnancy. Infections rarely hurt fertility, and there are a few factors to consider. For example, a yeast infection cannot result in infertility or cause a delay in pregnancy.

9.

What Are the Most Frequent Pregnancy Problems?

The most common pregnancy problems are,


- High blood pressure.


- Infections.


- Gestational diabetes.


- Preterm labor.


- Preeclampsia.


- Stillbirth.


- Miscarriage.


- Anxiety.


- Depression.

10.

Do Infections Result in Positive Pregnancy Tests?

Sometimes, a false positive pregnancy test result can be caused by severe urinary tract infections (characterized by elevated RBC, WBC, and nitrite levels). Ectopic pregnancies usually result in lower amounts of hCG. The diluting action of urine will increase this.

11.

How to Treat an Infection in Pregnancy Naturally?

Pregnant women mostly use cranberries, barberries, raspberries, echinacea, hydrastis, and garlic as natural anti-infective medicines. Pregnant women with UTIs may find relief from ascorbic acid. Urinary acidity is increased by ascorbic acid. Acidity prevents infections and helps kill germs.

12.

Can an Infection cause Fetal Death?

Placental damage, severe maternal sickness, and direct fetal infection are some of the causes of stillbirth. Stillbirth has been linked to several viruses, bacteria, and protozoa. Placental problems, such as inadequate blood supply, were the most common reasons for stillbirths, which occur at 24 weeks of pregnancy.

13.

Do Antibiotics Have an Effect on Pregnancy?

Some antibiotics have a proven teratogenic potential, and they should be completely avoided during pregnancy. These include the antibiotics,


- Tetracycline (leads to hypoplasia, weakening, and discoloration of bones and teeth).


- Streptomycin and Kanamycin (which may lead to hearing loss).

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Dr. Richa Agarwal
Dr. Richa Agarwal

Obstetrics and Gynecology

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