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5 Infections That Cause Birth Defects

Infection during pregnancy can cause birth defects. Infections that do not typically cause or result in mild symptoms in an adult can have serious consequences for the unborn baby. When such an infection does not result in pregnancy loss or stillbirth, it can lead to low birth weight or dysfunction of multiple organ systems in the baby.

Early detection of infection is very important. Early screening for infection reduces the incidence of intrauterine infection and birth defects. Certain steps can be taken during pregnancy to minimize the risk of infection, including vaccination and other preventive measures.

5 Infections That Cause Birth Defects

It is important for anyone who is pregnant or planning to become pregnant to be aware of the various pathogens that can cause pregnancy loss or birth defects.

1. Cytomegalovirus Infection

Cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection is the most common infection present at birth in the United States. This is called a congenital infection. CMV infection during pregnancy increases the baby’s risk of congenital CMV.

Most children infected with CMV at birth have no symptoms. However, some newborns develop congenital CMV.

Symptoms of congenital CMV include:

  • Liver and spleen enlargement
  • retinal inflammation
  • low birth weight
  • microcephaly, which causes an abnormally small head and incomplete development of the brain
  • rash present at birth
  • seizures
  • Yellowing of the skin, eyes, and mucous membranes called jaundice

Most babies with signs of infection at birth will have long-term neurological problems, such as hearing loss, vision loss, intellectual disabilities, and developmental disorders. It can take years for these problems to appear. Congenital CMV infection increases the risk of diabetes, thyroid disease, and osteoporosis. Babies who are infected with cytomegalovirus infection at birth but do not show symptoms have a much lower risk for such problems.

It is difficult to predict which babies will experience severe congenital CVM. Unfortunately, there is no cure for CMV. Treatment plans may include physical therapy and appropriate education. In infants with congenital CMV, treatment with antiviral drugs can reduce hearing loss later in life.

Cytomegalovirus is ubiquitous in the environment. Therefore, it can be difficult to avoid. Pregnant women are advised to limit their interactions with very young children who can spread the infection.

Hands should be washed thoroughly after contact with children’s saliva or diapers, children under the age of 6 should not be kissed on the cheek or mouth, and food and drink should not be shared with young children.

2. Rubella Virus Infection

Rubella virus infection is very serious during pregnancy, especially in the first trimester. Common complications include miscarriage, premature birth, and death of the fetus. Babies born live may develop a condition called congenital rubella syndrome.

Congenital rubella syndrome causes eye, ear, and heart defects, as well as microcephaly or an abnormally small head, incomplete development of the brain, leading to autism and mental and motor delay. These problems are permanent. Temporary or temporary defects include enlarged liver and spleen, skin and bleeding problems, and brain infection.

Vaccination is the key to preventing this infection in your baby. In particular, the results of a 2011 study show that 16,600 cases of congenital rubella syndrome were prevented by rubella vaccine between 2001 and 2010. In addition, 1228 cases of autism spectrum disorder were prevented by the rubella vaccine during this time.

Rubella immunity testing is a routine part of prenatal care, People who are pregnant but not immune to the rubella virus should be vaccinated after pregnancy. Those who become infected with the rubella virus during pregnancy will be closely monitored. Infection in the first 11 weeks of pregnancy accounts for approximately 90% of the chance of giving birth to a baby with congenital rubella syndrome. After the first trimester, the risk drops significantly.

3. Herpes Virus Infection

Herpes (HVS) infection during pregnancy can be very severe for a newborn. It can result in pregnancy loss, premature birth and low birth weight. Herpes virus infection of the newborn is most serious towards the end of pregnancy, at the time of delivery or just after birth. Toward the end of pregnancy, infection can result in microcephaly, retinal inflammation, rash, and hydrocephalus.

Hydrocephalus is a condition in which the primary feature is excessive accumulation of spinal fluid in the brain, causing abnormal enlargement of spaces in the brain called ventricles. This enlargement puts a potentially harmful pressure on brain tissues.

Herpes infection during or shortly after birth can cause diseases of the eyes, mouth, or skin, as well as brain and other types of infections.

The risk of transmitting herpes to your baby can be reduced by taking the antiviral medicine acyclovir during the last four weeks of pregnancy. The risk to the baby is highest if the pregnant person gets HVS for the first time during pregnancy. If there is no herpes outbreak at the time of birth, the probability of the baby getting an infection is very low. If there is an active infection in the birth canal at the time of delivery, the baby will likely need to be delivered by cesarean section.

4. Toxoplasmosis Infection

Toxoplasmosis is caused by the protozoan parasite Toxoplasma gondii, which is spread by cats, which is usually transmitted by eating infected rodents and birds. In the United States, it is estimated that 11% of the population aged 6 years and older are exposed. In various parts of the world, up to 95% of some populations have been shown to be infected with Toxoplasma. Infection is usually highest in areas of the world with warm, humid climates and low altitudes.

If you are pregnant and have a cat, it is important to avoid changing the litter box. Toxoplasmosis is transmitted through feces. Other guidance includes keeping your cats indoors and feeding them commercial foods.

Other sources include uncooked or partially cooked meat, as well as soil and contaminated water. Remember to fully cook your meat at a sufficiently hot temperature. Also, wash your hands thoroughly after handling uncooked meat and wash all tools and utensils used to prepare the meat. Finally, avoid drinking untreated water and wear gloves when gardening.

People who are infected with toxoplasmosis during or just before pregnancy can pass the infection to the baby. Most infected mothers show no signs of infection, and most infected infants are usually asymptomatic. However, toxoplasmosis infection can cause miscarriage or stillbirth, as well as serious birth defects such as hydrocephalus, microcephaly, intellectual disability, and retinal inflammation.

Typically, the earlier in pregnancy a person is infected with toxoplasmosis, the more difficult the resulting disease.

Some of the potential effects of toxoplasmosis infection in the newborn include:

  • An increase in pressure around the brain (called increased intracranial pressure)
  • hydrocephalus
  • low blood sugar (i.e. hypoglycemia)
  • Lack of oxygen (i.e. hypoxia)
  • deep vision problems

Up to 70% of newborns who receive appropriate and rapid treatment with pyrimethamine and folinic acid drugs develop normally. Treatment should continue during the first year of life.

5. Zika virus

Zika is spread by the Aedes mosquito, which bites during the day. It can also be transmitted through unprotected sex with an infected partner. Although Zika has spread locally in both Florida and southern Texas, Zika dominance is seen in Central America, South America and the Caribbean.

The Zika virus, passed from mother to fetus, can cause serious birth defects, including microcephaly and brain abnormalities. Women with Zika virus are 20 times more likely to have these birth defects.

Although a Zika vaccine is currently being studied, there is no cure or specific treatment for Zika virus. Pregnant women are advised to use insect repellent, avoid traveling to areas where Zika is spread, and avoid unprotected sex with a partner who may be infected.

A Word from Your Women’s Club;
Certain types of infections in unborn babies can cause birth defects, premature birth and death. That’s why it’s so important for people considering getting pregnant to get all recommended vaccinations before or after conception, including the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR), flu, tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis vaccines.

Taking other steps, such as getting regular prenatal care, washing hands properly, and avoiding contact with cat litter, will also minimize the risk of infecting your baby. Consult your doctor for any questions you may have about avoiding infection during pregnancy.

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