A mother holding her baby
By Katherine Lyons, MD

How to Prevent 6 Common Infections in Pregnancy

Prenatal infections are infections during pregnancy. Not all infections are preventable and many often don’t show any symptoms. Learn about prevention, screening and treatments for six common infections and keep your baby healthy

More than 60% of pregnant women will get an infection during pregnancy. Viruses or bacteria can enter your body through your eyes, nose, mouth, or openings in your skin, such as cuts or scrapes.

Some infections are harmless in pregnancy. Others can cause serious problems for you or the baby, such as:

  • Organ damage
  • Developmental problems
  • Sickness
  • Death

While you are pregnant, your doctor or midwife will check you for infections that are common in pregnancy. The earlier we find and treat an infection, the better your outcomes can be.

Many infections can be prevented with healthy habits. Let’s learn about six common infections that happen during pregnancy and how to prevent them.

Related Reading: Which Cold or Flu Medication is Safe to Take During Pregnancy?

If you are pregnant and start feeling sick, make sure that bottle of cold and flu medicine is safe for your baby.

1. Group B Strep (GBS)

GBS is a type of bacterial that 1 in 4 pregnant women carry in their body. This is not the same as strep throat. If passed along, it is life-threatening for 4% of babies.

All pregnant patients are checked for GBS between 36-37 weeks of pregnancy. If you test positive, we will give you an IV antibiotic during labor to protect your baby. Find out how we treat GBS in our Group B Strep pamphlet [PDF].

Currently, there is no vaccine for GBS and no way to prevent passing it along, aside from taking antibiotics by IV during delivery.

2. Cytomegalovirus (CMV)

CMV is a common virus spread through bodily fluids. If someone gets it, they have it for life. Most people don’t have symptoms, which can include a sore throat, feeling achy, being more tired than usual, or having a high temperature. Medications can be used to treat symptoms.

If you get infected during pregnancy, CMS can pass to the baby. The virus can cause permanent brain problems or infant death. Approximately 1 in 200 babies are born with this virus and 20% of those babies have complications.

Preventing CMV:

  • Avoid sharing food or drinks with others.
  • Clean any surfaces that come in contact with urine or saliva.
  • Practice safe sex by always wearing a condom.
  • Wash your hands often, using soap and water—and always after using the restroom, changing a diaper or handling tissues.

3. Hepatitis B and C

Hepatitis is a viral infection of the liver. It can cause serious, long-term liver issues. Hepatitis B (HBV) is spread through body fluids and hepatitis C (HCV) is spread through blood. It is not spread by breastfeeding but can pass along to a baby during delivery.

HVB affects 4% of adults. There is a 90% risk of passing HVB infection to the baby during delivery.

HCV affects 1-2% of adults. There is a 5% risk of passing HCV to the baby during delivery.

Screening for HCV should occur early in the pregnancy, as soon as the first prenatal visit. Many people with hepatitis do not have symptoms, so screening is important. Doctors can give a simple blood test and treat it with antiviral medication, if needed.

Preventing hepatitis:

  • Avoid sharing personal items such as toothbrushes, bar soaps or razors.
  • Do not share needles.
  • Get vaccinated – there is a safe and effective vaccine available
  • Practice safe sex by always wearing a condom.
  • Wash hands often, using soap and water.

4. Listeriosis

This infection is caused by eating foods contaminated with the bacteria Listeria. Some foods are more likely to contain it, such as:

  • Cold cuts
  • Lunch meats
  • Raw sprouts
  • Soft cheeses
  • Unpasteurized milk

Listeriosis is rare, but serious. Of the 1600 people who contract it each year, 1500 are hospitalized and 20-30% die. Pregnant women are 18 times more likely to get it, but scientists are not sure why pregnant women are so susceptible.

Infection can cause fatigue and muscle aches in pregnant women but can cause pregnancy loss. Antibiotics can protect you and the baby. Tell your doctor if you have flu-like symptoms. 

Preventing listeriosis:

  • Avoid processed meats (i.e., deli meat, hot dogs, etc.).
  • Avoid raw or unpasteurized milk.
  • Do not eat smoked fish.
  • Do not eat raw sprouts.
  • Keep food chilled at the right temperature.

5. Toxoplasmosis

This infection is caused by the parasite Toxoplasma gondii. According to the American Journal of Epidemiology, 85% of pregnant women in the U.S. are at risk of being infected. Over 40 million people in the U.S. have this infection.

You can get toxoplasmosis from animals, such as by changing an infected cat’s litter box or while gardening. You can also get it from eating raw meat or unwashed fruits and vegetables containing the parasite.

Infection can cause serious eye, hearing and learning issues in babies. There are often no symptoms. Your doctor can give you a blood test to check for this infection. It can be treated with antibiotics.

Preventing toxoplasmosis:

  • Ask someone else to change the litter box or if you must do it, wear gloves and wash your hands when you are done.
  • Do not eat raw eggs, unpasteurized milk, raw or undercooked meat or unwashed fruits and vegetables.
  • Wash your hands regularly with soap and water.
  • Wear gloves when gardening.

6. Zika Virus

You can get this virus if you are bitten by an infected mosquito. Rarely, it can be spread during sex. The infection can spread from mother to baby during delivery.

Zika virus can cause a small head and brain in babies, eye problem, hearing loss and seizures. There is currently no vaccine or treatment available.

Outbreaks are more common in warm, tropical areas. New Mexico and nearby areas of the United States have reported Zika transmission in the past, but not since 2018. However, you still can be at risk of Zika, so it is important to continue prevention practices.

Preventing Zika virus:

  • Avoid traveling to areas currently affected by Zika outbreaks.
  • Practice safe sex by always wearing a condom.
  • Wear loose covering that closes your arms and legs and use 50% DEET-based insect repellent if you travel to an area where the Zika virus is found.

Related Reading: Your First Prenatal Appointment

Learning to breastfeed your baby takes practice and patience. It's normal to have questions, whether you’re a first-time or veteran mom.

One of the longest appointments a woman will have during pregnancy, with several tests and a lot of important information

Not all infections can be prevented. If you get an infection, this does not mean you did anything wrong. But early detection and treatment is extremely important. Receiving proper prenatal care is the best way to lower your risk of complications.

It is possible to have an infection and not realize it because you feel fine. But the sooner an infection is found, the better possible outcome for you and your baby.

To find out whether you or a loved one might benefit from Ob/Gyn care
Categories: Women's Health