Preventing prenatal infections

February is International Prenatal Infection Prevent Month, a month designed to promote awareness of common infections that can be transmitted from mother to baby during pregnancy. Prenatal infections can be caused by bacteria, viruses or other microorganisms that enter the mother’s body through the vagina or cervix, sometimes before pregnancy is even detected.

Some of the most common prenatal infections include:

  • Cytomegalovirus or CMV: CMV is the most common infection passed from pregnant people to babies during pregnancy; it’s passed through bodily fluids such as saliva, blood, urine, vaginal sections and semen. Most adults have been infected with the virus but don’t have symptoms. CMV can be transmitted from mother to child through the placenta, and babies and young children are more likely to shed the virus in their saliva and urine, so expecting parents should take care to reduce fluid contact with little ones by not sharing cups or utensils. The virus is rarely harmful in older children or healthy adults because their immune system protects from infection, but it can be more serious in newborns and young children.
  • Group B Strep (GBS): About 1 in every 4 women in the United States has the bacteria that causes Group B Strep without having any symptoms, which is why many are screened for it during pregnancy. It is rarely serious for adults, but can be dangerous in newborns, who may have symptoms such as fever, lethargy and trouble feeding. Antibiotics given during labor can prevent the spread to children.
  • Syphilis is also on the rise in Minnesota and across the country—with maternal rates tripling and raising infection rates for newborns. Syphilis can pose severe complications during pregnancy for both parent and child; fortunately, the spread of syphilis is preventable with screening and treatment.
  • Listeriosis: Pregnant women are about 10 times more likely to get this infection caused by eating contaminated food than those who aren’t expecting, which is why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends avoiding unpasteurized milk and any products made from it, as well as lunch meat and hot dogs. Contact your doctor if you have flu-like symptoms, which can be a sign of listeriosis.

Influenza and sexually transmitted infections can also lead to prenatal infections. Complications from severe infections can include preterm birth, low birth weight, birth defects and other issues, which is why prevention, early detection and treatment are so important.

“Protecting mother and baby’s health is the goal throughout pregnancy, so it is crucial to pay attention to any signs of infection,” said Dr. Erin Stevens. “Fortunately, there are vaccines and screening tests for many prenatal infections, and we are here if you have questions or concerns.”


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