International Prenatal Infection Prevention Month

International Prenatal Infection Prevention Month

Safeguard Your Baby’s Health: Prevent Prenatal Infections

Maternal infections during pregnancy, known collectively as prenatal infections, can cause serious health risks not only to you but also to your baby. Protection from prenatal infections is crucial, as they can increase preterm birth risk and can cause serious health complications for your baby, including organ damage, developmental delay, disabilities and even death.

February is designated International Prenatal Infection Prevention Month. Your Capital Women’s Care team offers vital information on which prenatal infections to be vigilant for plus valuable health tips and guidelines to minimize prenatal infection risks before and during your pregnancy.

What Are Prenatal Infections?

Prenatal infections are caused by viruses or bacteria. While tests and treatments are available for some prenatal infections, others can be prevented from infecting baby during pregnancy and labor through appropriate health measures.

There are several infections that can adversely affect you and your baby’s health before, during and after your pregnancy, including:

  • COVID-19  -- the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has important up-to-date information concerning COVID-19 and pregnancy.

  • Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is the most common vaginal condition in women ages 15 through 44 years. BV increases risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and may play a role in preterm labor and low birth weight. Unprotected sex and douching can also increase risk. The CDC recommends pregnant women get tested if they have symptoms and get treatment if recommended.

  • Cytomegalovirus (CMV) is a common virus present in many body fluids spread through close personal contact, like kissing or sharing eating utensils, or sexual contact. CMV usually doesn’t cause health problems, but once introduced into a person's body, it remains for life and can reactivate.

    A pregnant woman may unknowingly transmit the virus to her baby, causing congenital CMV infection. Most infants with congenital CMV infection never show signs or experience health problems. However, some infants experience hearing or vision loss, seizures, or intellectual disabilities that may be either apparent at birth or develop later during infancy or early childhood.

    Congenital CMV infection can be diagnosed by testing a newborn baby's saliva, urine or blood. Antiviral drug treatments may decrease health problems and hearing loss risks in some infected infants.

    Researchers are working on CMV treatments and vaccines to try to prevent new infections during pregnancy and reduce transmission risk to newborns.

  • Group B streptococcus (GBS) can cause serious health problems in infants. However, antibiotics given during labor can prevent spread of GBS, so it's important to get tested during pregnancy.

  • Hepatitis B virus (HBV) during pregnancy could transmit to baby, depending on when infection occurs during a woman’s pregnancy. If a woman gets the infection later in pregnancy, the risk of the virus infecting her baby is quite high. If the infection occurs early in pregnancy, the risk of the virus infecting her baby is much lower.

    In infants, HBV can be serious, leading to chronic liver disease or liver cancer later in life. In addition, infected newborns have a very high risk of becoming carriers of HBV and can spread the infection to others.

    In some cases, if a woman is exposed to HBV during pregnancy, she may be treated with a special antibody to reduce likelihood of infection.

    All healthy infants should be vaccinated against HBV to give them lifelong protection.

    Infants born to women presenting evidence of ongoing HBV infection (HBV surface antigen positive) should also receive hepatitis B hyperimmune globulin as soon as possible after birth.

  • Hepatitis C virus (HCV) – the CDC now recommends one-time hepatitis C testing of all adults (18 years and older) and all pregnant women during every pregnancy and continues to recommend people with risk factors, including people who inject drugs, be tested regularly.

  • HIV/AIDS can be passed from mother to infant during pregnancy before birth, at the time of delivery, or after birth during breastfeeding.

  • Influenza (flu) is more likely to cause severe illness in pregnant women than in women of reproductive age who aren’t pregnant. Changes to the immune system, heart, and lungs during pregnancy make women more susceptible to influenza severe enough to cause hospitalization throughout pregnancy and up to 2 weeks postpartum.

    What’s more, influenza may be harmful to the developing baby, as a pregnant woman’s flu-induced fever may be associated with neural tube defects and other adverse outcomes. Maternal influenza vaccination also can help protect baby from influenza after birth due to potent antibodies passed to a developing baby during pregnancy.

  • Listeria or listeriosis is a serious infection usually caused by eating bacteria-contaminated, unpasteurized food. Infection during pregnancy can lead to pregnancy loss, stillbirth, preterm birth, or life-threatening infection to newborns. Listeriosis is most often associated with consumption of soft cheeses and raw milk; yet recent outbreaks have been associated with fresh and frozen produce. Prevention recommendations include checking food labels to avoid eating unpasteurized cheese, milk and other such foods.

  • Lyme disease is the most common U.S. vector-borne disease. It’s caused by strains of the bacteria, Borrelia, that is transmitted to humans through infected blacklegged deer tick bites. Untreated Lyme disease can lead to placental infection in pregnant women. For more about pregnancy and Lyme disease, click here.

  • STIs during pregnancy are associated with several serious health risks to babies of women with chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, trichomoniasis or genital herpes: low-birth weight; preterm birth; blindness or eye infections; deafness or hearing loss; premature rupture of membranes around the uterus; infection of fluid surrounding baby while in the womb; blood infection; brain and organ damage; chronic liver disease; stillbirth; or even death shortly after birth. STI treatments and medications prescribed to infected pregnant women greatly reduce babies’ health risks.

  • Toxoplasmosis is a disease caused by a parasite that can be present in cat feces or used cat litter. Cats get the parasite from ingesting small animals or birds. In humans, the disease is usually mild, but if the parasite passes from a pregnant woman to her developing baby, it can cause intellectual disabilities, blindness, or other problems. Women trying to become pregnant or are pregnant should prevent exposure to the parasite by wearing gloves during outdoor gardening and having other household members manage cat litterbox duties.

  • Zika is caused by a virus spread mainly through the bite of a certain type of mosquito, but it also can spread via sexual contact. Although its symptoms are usually mild, Zika infection during pregnancy can cause pregnancy loss and other pregnancy complications, including severe infant birth defects like microcephaly.

It’s important to be vigilant for prenatal infection symptoms and contact your Capital Women’s Care team of women’s health professionals as soon as possible if you think you have been exposed to a prenatal infection bacteria or virus.

Tips to Avoid Prenatal Infections

Fortunately, there are several precautionary health measures you can implement within your prenatal health plan to reduce you and your baby’s risk of prenatal infections:

  • Protect yourself from Zika virus. Avoid travel to areas with Zika. If your partner travels and can’t avoid Zika-prone areas, use condoms or abstain from sex during your pregnancy to avoid infection.

  • Practice good hygiene. Wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds every time after:
    • using the bathroom
    • touching raw meat, raw eggs, or unwashed vegetables
    • preparing food and eating
    • gardening or touching dirt or soil
    • handling pets
    • being around people who are sick
    • getting saliva (spit) on your hands
    • caring for and playing with children
    • and changing diapers.

  • Reduce contact with saliva and urine from babies and young children. Doing so decreases CMV exposure, which can be passed to unborn babies if you’re pregnant. Also avoid sharing food and utensils with babies and young children and wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after changing diapers.

  • Avoid unpasteurized (raw) milk and foods made from it. Avoid eating soft cheeses, like feta, brie, and queso fresco, unless they have labels saying they are pasteurized. Unpasteurized products can contain harmful bacteria that increase likelihood of listeria.

  • Don’t touch or change dirty cat litter. If you must change the cat litter yourself, be sure to wear gloves and wash your hands afterwards. Dirty cat litter might contain a harmful parasite that may cause toxoplasmosis.

  • Stay away from wild or pet rodents and their droppings. Have a pest control professional get rid of pests in or around your home. If you have a pet rodent, like a hamster or guinea pig, have someone else care for it until after your baby arrives. Some rodents might carry lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV).

  • Get tested for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), like HIV and HBV, and protect yourself from them. Some people who have HIV, HBV, or an STD don’t feel sick. Knowing if you have one of these diseases is important. If you do, talk to your Capital Women’s Care team about reducing the chance your baby will become sick.

  • Talk to your healthcare provider about vaccinations. Some vaccinations are recommended before you become pregnant, during pregnancy, or right after delivery. Having the right vaccinations at the right time can help keep you healthy and help keep your baby from getting very sick or having life-long health problems.

  • Avoid exposure to people with an infection. If you haven’t yet had or didn’t have the vaccine before pregnancy, stay away from people who you know have infections, like chickenpox or rubella.

  • Ask your doctor about GBS. About 1 in 4 women carry this type of bacteria, but don’t feel sick. An easy swab test near the end of your pregnancy will determine if you have this type of bacteria. If you do have group B strep, talk to your healthcare provider about how to protect your baby during labor.

Your Capital Women’s Care team of health professionals is here to answer your questions or concerns about prenatal infections or any women’s health issue. Our compassionate, knowledgeable team of doctors, nurses and medical support staff offer you and your family comprehensive care and treatment so you enjoy optimal health and a long, quality life.


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The providers of Capital Women's Care seek the highest quality medical and ethical standard in an environment that nurtures the spirit of caring for every woman.


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