February is International Prenatal Infection Prevention Month and the obstetrics and gynecology team at Sidra Medicine is sharing advice on preventing prenatal infections.
Prenatal infection can, in some cases, have a serious impact on both mother and child during and after pregnancy. There are, however, some simple steps pregnant woman can take to reduce the risk of contracting an infection. “In many cases education and prevention are the best ways to fight disease. At Sidra Medicine, our mission is not only to treat patients but to ensure that they lead a healthy lifestyle throughout their lives. We hope to bring awareness to simple preventative measures that will help improve quality of life for mothers and families,” said Dr. Guy Fender, Senior Attending Physician in the Obstetrics and Gynecology Department at Sidra Medicine.
Is an infection more dangerous during pregnancy?
Viral infections like coughs and colds generally do not harm the mother or baby. However, persistent flu-like symptoms should be discussed with a doctor. Serious flu can be prevented via a vaccination offered to all mothers in the winter months. This vaccine is safe to give in early pregnancy and provides combined protection against flu and ‘bird-flu,’ a condition which can be very serious for pregnant women.
Urinary infections are more frequent in pregnancy but don’t affect the baby’s health. It is important to avoid dehydration and seek medical advice if there is persistent burning, blood in the urine or a fever.
Are there any foods that pregnant women should avoid to prevent infection?
Some bacterial infections, such as Listeriosis, can be passed on to an unborn baby through the placenta, even though the mother might not be displaying any symptoms of an infection. To help prevent this, pregnant women are advised to avoid certain foods such as unpasteurized milk and mold-ripened soft cheeses. This means that it is OK to eat cottage cheese, mozzarella, feta, paneer, ricotta, halloumi, and goat’s cheese provided the packaging states they are made from pasteurized milk. According to the NHS Choices website, hard cheeses are safe to eat in pregnancy, including cheddar, edam, emmental, gouda and parmesan.1
Pregnant women should also be aware of parasitic infections. These can be avoided by rigorously washing fruits and vegetables to remove all traces of dirt and soil and ensuring all meat and poultry is cooked thoroughly.
Can pets pass on infection to women during pregnancy?
Pregnant women should avoid any contact with cats or cat litter to avoid infection with toxoplasma, which can harm an unborn baby. If contact is unavoidable, women must wash their hands before and after interaction or alternatively wear gloves. It’s also advisable to avoid contact with any farm or other domestic animals during pregnancy.
Should pregnant women avoid contact with young children who may be ill? 2, 3, 4
Pregnant women can take steps to reduce their risk of exposure to childhood diseases by avoiding contact with young children with a rash or a fever. Women should also seek medical advice if they haven’t had a blood test to check for immunity against German measles or Rubella infection. Other infections passed on by children include CMV virus, chickenpox and parvovirus or ‘slapped cheek’ disease. If a woman experiences any symptoms relating to these, she should see a doctor immediately. Simple hygiene including hand-washing with soap and hot water before and after contact with young children is also an effective prevention against infection.
Should pregnant women be tested for Hepatitis B? 2, 3, 4
All mothers should be tested early in pregnancy for Hepatitis B; this is part of a routine series of blood tests. Vaccination is a key form of prevention. Hepatitis B is a serious condition for a pregnant mother and, if contracted, specialist hospital-based care is required.
Does traveling abroad increase the risk of prenatal infection? 5
If traveling abroad to a high-risk area, women should be aware of serious infections including malaria and HIV. Often vaccinations are not recommended due to concerns that the virus or bacteria in the vaccine could harm the unborn child. Women are generally advised to avoid traveling to countries where immunization is required but if this isn’t possible, women should seek specialist advice about prevention to reduce the risk of infection.
1 NHS Choices. Foods to avoid in pregnancy. Available from:http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/pages/foods-to-avoid-pregnant.aspx
2NHS Choices. Infections in pregnancy that may affect your baby. Available from:http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/pages/pregnancy-infections.aspx
3 Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. Chickenpox in pregnancy. Available form: https://www.rcog.org.uk/en/patients/patient-leaflets/chickenpox-in-pregnancy/
4 Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. Group B streptococcus (GBS) infection in newborn babies. Available from: https://www.rcog.org.uk/en/patients/patient-leaflets/group-b-streptococcus-gbs-infection-in-newborn-babies/
5 Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. HIV and pregnancy. Available from:https://www.rcog.org.uk/en/patients/patient-leaflets/hiv-and-pregnancy/