Prenatal Infection Awareness and Prevention: A Q&A with Gail Carreau, MD

February 24, 2015

baby close upFebruary is International Prenatal Infection Prevention Month. The goal is to raise awareness of the many potentially serious infections that pregnant women can transfer to their unborn babies and ways to reduce or even prevent these infections. Gail Carreau, MD, an obstetrician/gynecologist at Newport Hospital, talks about the impact of some of these infections and ways to prevent them.

What are the most common prenatal infections?  

Some of the most common infections are screened for during pregnancy. These include urinary tract infections (UTIs), Group B streptococcus (strep), syphilis and rubella. Hepatitis B and HIV are also screened for during pregnancy. Other common infections that can be transferred from mother to fetus include listeria, cytomegalovirus, toxoplasmosis, herpes, fifth disease and chickenpox.

What damage can be caused by prenatal infections?  

Although only a small percentage of fetuses are affected by maternal infections, the results can be severe and devastating. There are different results depending on the trimester in which the infection occurs, as well as the specific type of infection. If left untreated, fetal consequences may include miscarriage, hearing loss, blindness, intellectual disabilities, pneumonia, meningitis and sometimes death.

What are ways for moms to keep their baby safe before and after birth?  

Preventing and reducing exposure to maternal infections is the best way to reduce the risk of fetal infections. Cleanliness and hand washing go a long way toward reducing the risk of infection exposure during pregnancy and throughout a baby’s life.

Specific ways to prevent infection and reduce exposure include:

  • Seeking prenatal care where some infections, such as UTI and syphilis, can be diagnosed and treated early. Prevention of Group B strep transfer to the fetus is done during labor through antibiotic administration to the mother.
  • Vaccinating before pregnancy to avoid infections such as rubella and chickenpox.
  • Avoiding contact with people known to be sick, especially those with chickenpox or fifth disease.
  • Hand washing after contact with people’s saliva and after diaper changes.
  • Avoiding cleaning litter boxes and animal cages, and wearing gloves while gardening to reduce toxoplasmosis exposure.
  • Hand washing after handling raw or undercooked meat.
  • Avoiding deli meats, sprouts, unpasteurized cheeses and milk, and unpasteurized cider, all of which can be carriers of listeria.
  • Cooking meat, poultry and eggs thoroughly.
  • Washing and peeling fruits and vegetables.