7 viruses you can pass to baby when you’re pregnant

When an expectant mother falls ill, certain infections pose a risk to her baby. Watch out for these pregnancy infections.

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It’s worrying when a pregnant woman contracts a viral or bacterial infection as some infections are more severe in mums-to-be, which can harm the foetus.

Although most times, the babies emerge unscathed, certain illnesses can be transmitted to them through the placenta or during birth.

“It is difficult to detect all cases of maternal infection during pregnancy,” notes Dr Tony Tan, a specialist in obstetrics and gynaecology at Raffles Women’s Centre, Raffles Hospital. “Some are symptomatic but many could be asymptomatic. Depending on the timing of the infection, the risk of foetal damage is usually worst when it is infected in the first trimester.”

Dr Tan also notes that most cases of foetal infection are only detected if there are structural abnormalities at the detailed 20-week scan or a later scan done by a sonographer or a foetal medicine specialist.

The expectant woman may need further testing to check if there was a recent maternal infection. She may also need an amniocentesis to find out her foetus has been infected. So, it’s wise to get your rubella and chickenpox jabs before trying for a baby.

“Many obstetricians are now offering pertussis (whooping cough) and influenza (flu) vaccines to pregnant women during pregnancy,” Dr Tan points out. “This would reduce the risk of the baby having whooping cough and flu in the first few months as whooping cough could be a very serious infection.”

Apart from getting immunised, a pregnant woman can reduce the risk of serious problems for herself and baby by maintaining good personal hygiene and taking other precautions. These include observing strict handwashing and sanitising habits, staying away from infected people and eating thoroughly cooked food.

Here are seven infections you might catch during pregnancy that might pose a risk to baby and what you can do about it.

Apart from getting immunised, a pregnant woman can reduce the risk of serious problems for herself and baby by maintaining good personal hygiene and taking other precautions.

#1 Toxoplasmosis 

WHAT IS IT? You may contract toxoplasmosis if you’re infected with the toxoplasma gondii parasite, one of the world’s most common parasites.
HOW DOES IT SPREAD? Toxoplasmosis may be contracted by:
1.      Eating undercooked or contaminated meat or drinking contaminated water.
2.      Eating food that’s been contaminated by dirty knives, utensils, cutting boards and other foods that have had contact with raw, tainted meat.
3.      Accidentally swallowing the parasite through contact with cat faeces that contains toxoplasma. This usually happens when cleaning an infected cat’s litter box or ingesting anything that has come into contact with cat faeces.
4.      Accidentally ingesting contaminated soil by not washing hands after gardening or eating unwashed fruits or vegetables.
RISKS AND MANAGEMENT Maternal infection may be mild, with flu-like symptoms or it could even be asymptomatic sometimes. If the maternal infection occurs in the first trimester, it may sometimes infect the foetus via the placenta. In such cases, the risk of complications is high and may damage the brain, eyes, placenta and restrict growth. Dr Tan says medications can be given to reduce the spread of the disease to the foetus.


#2 Parvovirus b19 infection

WHAT IS IT? Also known as slapped-cheek disease because of the distinctive face rash, this is a common and highly-contagious viral disease that’s also known as fifth disease. In most people, a parvovirus infection is mild and requires little treatment. However, parvovirus b19 infection in certain pregnant women can lead to serious health problems for the foetus.
HOW DOES IT SPREAD? Early signs and symptoms may include fever, an upset stomach, headache, runny nose and joint soreness (hands, wrists, knees and ankles). Parvovirus b19 spreads through respiratory secretions ― such as saliva, sputum or nasal mucus ― when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The virus can also spread through blood or blood products. A pregnant woman who is infected with parvovirus b19 can pass it to her baby.
RISKS AND MANAGEMENT If the foetus is also infected, it may briefly suppress its bone marrow development, giving rise to anaemia. As a result, the foetus could swell with excess fluid in the skin and other body cavities, and may have severe heart failure and even die. Dr Tan says there is no medication that can help. However, the foetus should be monitored closely for foetal anaemia and heart failure. A transfusion of blood to the foetus through a needle inserted into mummy’s uterus may reverse the anaemia and heart failure and prevent a stillbirth.