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What Infections Can Affect Pregnancy?

It is very important that during pregnancy, women stay healthy and protected, to guard against infections that might affect the pregnancy and cause further complications.

Pregnancy is a defining moment in a woman’s life which is characterized by physiological changes in the body. It can also make women more vulnerable to some infections, and in some cases, make these infections more severe.

Vaginal and uterine infections are the most common forms that affect pregnancies and we will explore them in this article.

Vaginal Infections
Vaginal Yeast Infection

This is caused by a fungus known as candida. Vaginal yeast infections tend to occur during pregnancy as a result of changes in the immune system, increased production of glycogen, and higher estrogen levels. It occurs more often during the second and third trimesters. Symptoms of vaginal yeast infection include itchiness around the vagina/vulva, thick, white vaginal discharge and pain or burning in or around the vagina amongst others.

Group B Streptococcus (GBS)

This is caused by a bacterium known as group B streptococcus. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Trusted Source, about 1 in 4 women have a GBS infection. The infection can cause internal inflammation and also stillbirth in pregnant women. It is often transmitted during vaginal deliveries, as the bacterium may be present in the mother’s vagina or rectum. Babies infected with GBS can develop potentially life-threatening infections such as sepsis, pneumonia, and meningitis.

Bacterial Vaginosis

It is the most common vaginal infection in women of reproductive age. It increases the risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and may play a role in preterm labour. Bacterial vaginosis results from a change in the balance of bacteria that live in the vagina. Having unprotected sex and douching can increase the risk of bacterial vaginosis.

Uterine Infections
Chorioamnionitis

This is a bacterial infection that occurs before or during labour. It occurs when bacteria infect the chorion, amnion, and amniotic fluid around the fetus. This infection results from when bacteria that are typically present in the vagina ascend into the uterus, where the fetus is located. Some symptoms of chorioamnionitis include fever, rapid heartbeat, uterine tenderness and discoloured and foul-smelling amniotic fluid. Babies delivered to mothers with chorioamnionitis can be predisposed to meningitis, pneumonia and other life-threatening conditions.

Other Infections
Hepatitis B

This is a virus that affects the liver, it can be is spread by having sex with an infected person without using a condom, or by direct contact with infected blood. If you have hepatitis B or are infected during pregnancy, you can transmit the infection on to your baby at birth.

Herpes

This is a sexually transmitted disease that can be contracted through vaginal, anal and oral sex, it is dangerous to a newborn baby. It can be treated if the infection occurs during pregnancy. However, if the infection occurs towards the end of pregnancy or during labour, a caesarean section may be recommended to reduce the risk of transmitting herpes on to your baby.

HIV

Evidence shows that an HIV-positive mother who is healthy and without symptoms of the infection is unlikely to be adversely affected by pregnancy. However, HIV can be transmitted from a pregnant woman to her baby during pregnancy, birth or breastfeeding. If you're diagnosed with HIV, have a discussion with your doctor regarding the management of your pregnancy and birth to reduce the risk of infection for your baby. Treatment in pregnancy greatly reduces the risk of transmitting on HIV to the baby – from 1 in 4 to less than 1 in 100. Your baby will be tested for HIV at birth and at regular intervals for up to 2 years.

Zika Virus

It causes birth defects especially if a woman contracts the virus when she's pregnant. Zika virus can cause the baby to have an abnormally small head also known as microcephaly. High-risk areas prone to the virus include South or Central America, the Caribbean, Southeast Asia and the Pacific region (Fiji). Zika is spread by mosquitoes, the risk of mosquito bites can be reduced by using insect repellent and wearing loose clothing that covers both your arms and legs.

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