Prenatal infection can occur because of a bacteria or virus that is passed onto the infant during pregnancy or at the time of delivery. Prenatal infection prevention is not only essential for the wellbeing of the infant but also equally important for the protection of the mother. February is the month to raise awareness about prenatal infection and to inform people on how to prevent it. The prenatal infection prevention also offers valuable information to the mothers about nutrition, regular hygiene habits and food handling practices.

 Routine Prenatal Care

Prenatal care is the checkups and screening tests that are important to keep both the mother and the baby healthy during pregnancy. Typically, the routine checkups occur once each month for weeks 4 through 28, twice a month for weeks 28 through 36 and weekly for weeks 36 to birth. The tests used to check the health of the pregnant women and the baby includes testing for anemia, infections such as syphilis, hepatitis B and HIV. Based on the personal and family health, other screenings may also be recommended that detects the risk for possible health problems in the mother and the infant.

Infections during Pregnancy

There are simple steps that can be taken during pregnancy or if trying to get pregnant that can help protect the unborn child from infections that could cause serious health issues.

  • Cytomegalovirus (CMV)

CMV is passed through body fluids of infected people and younger children are also likely to have CMV in their saliva and urine. Therefore, it is advised that pregnant women should reduce their contact with young children and babies to lower their risk of getting an infection. An infected mother can pass the CMV to her unborn child during pregnancy. Around one in every 200 infants are born with congenital CMV infection and only around 1 in 5 babies will experience long term health problems.

  • Group B Strep

It is estimated that around 1 in every 4 women in the United States are carriers of the bacteria that causes group B Strep disease. Infants can get very sick if the infection is passed from the mother during childbirth. Therefore, it is important to get tested for Strep B test so during labor antibiotic can be given to reduce the risk of the bacteria from spreading to the infant.

Charity Group B Strep Support is a campaign that helps raise awareness about group B Strep which is considered the leading cause of infection among infants under 3 months old. It countries where women are tested for the infection, it is estimated that the infection among the newborn babies falls by up to 86%.

  • Listeriosis and Pregnancy

This is a rare but serious infection caused by the bacteria Listeria which mostly affects pregnant women, newborns and individuals with a weakened immune system. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around 1 in every 6 cases of Listeriosis is associated with pregnancy which typically presents fever and other flu-like symptoms. This infection during pregnancy could result in miscarriage, stillbirth or life-threatening infection of the newborn.

  • Zika Virus

Zika virus can spread from the pregnant mother to the fetus during pregnancy which can cause serious birth defects such as microcephaly and miscarriage, hearing loss and impaired growth. Therefore, CDC does not recommend pregnant women to travel to places where Zika is prevalent. Partners of women who have travelled to an area with Zika should use a condom correctly as it can spread through sex, so therefore it is important to talk to a healthcare provider about how to prevent the risk of birth defects associated with Zika.

Maternal Vaccination as an effective way to prevent Prenatal Infections

Maternal immunization remains an effective way to prevent transmission of certain infections such as hepatitis B and rubella to the infant during pregnancy. However, certain vaccines are not recommended prior to or during pregnancy, therefore women should consult with their healthcare provider to discuss vaccine recommendations prior to pregnancy.

Tdap (Pertussis): On an average, around 1,000 infants are hospitalized and around 5 to 15 infants die annually in the United States because of pertussis. This is because most cases affect infants who are too young to receive pertussis vaccine that starts when they are 2 months old.  The initial few months of infant’s lives are the greatest at risk for contracting pertussis and developing life-threatening complications from the infection. Therefore, women are recommended to receive tetanus toxoid, reduced diphtheria toxoid and acellular pertussis vaccine (Tdap) every pregnancy, preferably between 27 and 36 weeks gestation, so it can boost the antibodies in the mother which are transferred to the fetus.

Influenza (Flu): Pregnant women and their infants are at high risk of developing influenza-related complications including premature labor. As pregnant women experience changes in their immune system, heart and lungs, they are more prone to severe illness from influenza. The flu vaccine is the initial step for preventing flu and antiviral treatment lowers flu complications including death. The flu vaccines have been administered safely to millions of pregnant women over several decades and are considered safe for the pregnant women and their infants, however, pregnant women should NOT receive the live attenuated vaccine (nasal spray).

Preventing Prenatal Infection

Several forms of prenatal infection can be prevented with healthy pregnancy and the word HYGIENE can help make that possible by remembering H – Hand washing, Y – yes to prenatal care, G – Good food prepared safely, I – Immunizations, E – Evade other’s bodily fluids, N – No to unnecessary invasive procedure and E – Environmental precautions.

Also, it is important to follow certain guidelines such as avoiding eating products made from raw milk, avoiding unpasteurized milk, avoiding hot dogs, cold cuts or other Deli meats and  not eating refrigerated smoked seafood. Also remember to reduce the consumption of undercooked food, drink filtered or boiled water, wash hands soon after contact with pets and not to consume raw sprouts of any kind.