Maternal and Fetal Infections Overview
Infection is the invasion and growth of microorganisms in the body. The body may respond
in different ways depending on the type of infection and the extent of it. One or
more of the following can cause an infectious disease:
Infectious diseases can range from common illnesses, such as the cold, to deadly illnesses,
such as acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). Depending on the specific illness
and where you live, an infectious disease can spread in some or all these ways:
Sexual transmission. Transmission through sexual contact, including intercourse.
Airborne transmission. Transmission through inhaling airborne droplets of the disease. These may exist
in the air as a result of a cough or sneeze from an infected person.
Blood-borne transmission. Transmission through contact with infected blood, such as when sharing hypodermic
Direct skin contact. Transmission through contact with the skin of an infected person.
Insect-borne transmission. Transmission through insects, such as mosquitoes. These draw blood from an infected
person and then bite a healthy person.
Foodborne transmission. Transmission through consuming contaminated food.
Waterborne transmission. Transmission through contact with contaminated water.
Other mechanisms that can transmit a disease.
In developed countries, most infections are spread through sexual, airborne, blood-borne,
and skin contact. Countries with poor community hygiene may still have waterborne
In pregnancy, infections are a common complication. Women may be more prone to the
effects of infection during pregnancy because the immune system is naturally suppressed.
Certain infections may cause problems for the developing fetus and may endanger the
health of the mother. Some organisms that do not cause problems in nonpregnant women
can be dangerous in pregnancy. Other organisms are not harmful for the pregnant woman.
But they can be harmful to the fetus.
What are the symptoms of an infection?
The symptoms of an infection often depend on the organism causing the infection. Also, infection
in pregnancy may or may not have obvious symptoms. Or a pregnant woman may show different
symptoms of an infection. The symptoms may look like other conditions or health problems.
Always see your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
How is an infection diagnosed?
The diagnosis of an infection depends on the symptoms and a history of exposure to
the organism. Certain tests are done as part of routine prenatal care to rule out
common infections. Some tests help determine the mother's immunity to an infectious
disease, such as rubella. Other tests, such as blood tests, cultures, or tissue samples,
are used only when needed for diagnosis.
Treatment for an infection
You and your healthcare provider will figure out the best treatment based on:
Your overall health and past health
The type of infection
The specific medicines, procedures, or therapies that are safe during pregnancy
The risks and benefits of treatment to you and your unborn baby
How long the condition is expected to last
Your opinion or preference
Prevention of infection
Some infections, such as urinary tract infections, may not be preventable. Prevention
of other infections depends on the method of transmission. Women can reduce their
risk of contracting some infectious diseases by not coming into contact with the infecting
organism. For example, toxoplasmosis, which is found in cat feces, may be avoided
by not having contact with litter boxes. Sexually transmitted diseases can be prevented
by not having sexual contact with an infected partner.
The Zika virus is transmitted by infected mosquitoes. It can be transmitted from a
pregnant woman to her fetus. You can also get Zika from sexual intercourse with someone
infected with Zika.
Prevention of Zika infection
To help prevent infection with the Zika virus:
Do not travel to areas with Zika.
If you must travel, follow steps to prevent mosquito bites while on your trip.
Speak with your primary healthcare provider before your trip.
If your partner lives or has traveled to an area with Zika, use condoms every time
you have sex during the pregnancy.