Pregnant women and their unborn children are particularly vulnerable to many common infections. While these infections may not normally impact the general population, they are exceptionally dangerous for expectant mothers and can cause serious health problems. There are several steps you can take to prevent prenatal infections in both yourself and your baby. Here is a compendium of critical tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
1. Leave Some of the Pet Care to Someone Else
Pets can be wonderful companions, but can also present an infectious threat to pregnant women and unborn children. Specifically, pregnant women should avoid cleaning cat litter boxes due to the danger of toxoplasmosis, a life-threatening disease caused by a parasite that lives in cat feces. This disease can also be transmitted from mother to fetus. If this can’t be avoided, wearing protective gloves and thoroughly washing your hands afterward is recommended.
Pregnant women should also refrain from interacting with pet rodents (hamsters, guinea pigs, mice, rats, etc.) and pet reptiles. All wild animals, even animals that seem harmless like small lizards and turtles, should also be avoided while you are pregnant. These animals can carry a virus called lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV) that can lead to severe birth defects and even miscarriage.
2. Become Up to Date on Your Vaccinations
It is crucial for pregnant women to have all their vaccinations for the sake of themselves and their children. This includes the annual flu vaccine. All professional healthcare organizations strongly encourage pregnant women to receive this vaccine and agree that the flu shot is safe for the mother and her baby. Being pregnant puts women in a high-risk group for developing life-threatening infections that are flu-related. The flu shot is the best protection available against contracting influenza and avoiding complications.
If you scheduled an upcoming prenatal appointment with Dr.Garofalo, you can also receive a flu vaccine at this time. When booking your next appointment, let us know that you’re interested in receiving a flu vaccine, and we will be happy to include it in your next appointment.
The CDC also recommends that expectant mothers receive the whooping cough (pertussis) vaccine. While this is a serious illness for mothers, for unborn children, this can be life-threatening.
Check with your primary care physician and OB-GYN to ensure you are protected against preventable illnesses. Maintaining vaccinations during pregnancy transfers protection from the mother to the unborn baby.
3. Be Vigilant About What You Eat
You may notice some strange food cravings during your pregnancy, but always be cautious about what you eat. Undercooked or raw meats, eggs, fish, and shellfish can be a potential threat due to parasites and bacteria. Be sure to have your meals well done with juices that run clear and are free of any blood. Deli meat is another food item that pregnant women should avoid. This is due to possible Listeria contamination. Listeria is dangerous because it has the potential to transfer into the placenta and cause prenatal infection.
Consuming any raw (unpasteurized) milk or dairy products, including cheese is also not recommended. Dangerous microorganisms such as Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria that can be found in unpasteurized dairy can pose a serious health risk to your unborn baby.
4. Avoid Traveling to Certain Areas
If pregnant, always consult with your doctor before traveling outside of the United States. Some regions have endemic diseases (such as malaria) that are dangerous for pregnant women. A vaccination may be required before visiting certain regions in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and Central America. Depending on the location of your trip, your OBGYN may suggest delaying travel until after your delivery.
Zika virus, carried by mosquitoes, is a particular threat to expectant mothers. Women and their sexual partner should not travel to Zika endemic areas starting six months prior to conception and throughout pregnancy.
There is currently no vaccination against the virus; adhering to these precautions is critical.
5. Undergo Testing for Sexually Transmitted Infections (STis) and Other Infections
Testing for some STIs, such as chlamydia, HIV, and syphilis, is part of standard prenatal care. However, your OB-GYN may order additional testing if you meet certain risk factors. It’s important to always be honest with your physicians about your past medical history and sexual activity. Your doctors are not there to judge, but rather to provide the best care possible for you and your baby.
Group B Strep (also called GBS) is another infection that can potentially harm newborns. This is a bacterial infection that can be treated with antibiotics if identified. Group B Strep testing is simple and consists of a quick swab of your vaginal and anal area.
6. Avoid Sick People
Pregnant women can minimize their chances of contracting many viral and bacterial infections by avoiding those who are actively ill. You should avoid contact with friends or family members who have a cold, the flu, a sinus infection, etc. If the sick person is a member of your household, try to isolate yourself from them as much as possible and do not handle their items.
7. Always Wash Your Hands
Finally, frequent hand washing is always of the utmost importance. Hand washing with warm water and soap is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of disease even when you are not pregnant. Wash your hands many times a day – before and after meals, before and after using the bathroom, and any other time you may be exposed to contaminants. Carry a bottle of alcohol-based hand sanitizer so that you can still clean your hands if you do not have access to soap and water.
The most important action you can take to reducing your risk of prenatal infection is to follow the advice of your healthcare team. If you’d like to request a consultation at Dr. Garofalo’s practice, please click the button below.