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Maternal and Fetal Infections Overview

Infection is the invasion and multiplying of microorganisms in the body. The body may respond in different ways depending on the type of infection and the extent of the infection. An infectious disease is caused by one or more of the following:

  • Viruses

  • Bacteria

  • Parasites

  • Fungi

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 country (some countries with poor community hygiene may still experience waterborne transmission of a disease), an infectious disease can spread in some or all of the following ways:

  • Sexual transmission. Transmission of an infection through sexual contact, including intercourse.

  • Airborne transmission. Transmission of an infection through inhaling airborne droplets of the disease, which may exist in the air as a result of a cough or sneeze from an infected person.

  • Blood-borne transmission. Transmission of an infection through contact with infected blood, such as when sharing hypodermic needles.

  • Direct skin contact. Transmission of an infection through contact with the skin of an infected person.

  • Insect-borne transmission. Transmission of an infection through insects, such as mosquitoes, which draw blood from an infected person and then bite a healthy person.

  • Food-borne transmission. Transmission of an infection through consuming contaminated food.

  • Water-borne transmission. Transmission of an infection 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 direct skin contact transmission.

In pregnancy, infections are a common complication. Women may be more susceptible 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 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, women with infection in pregnancy may or may not have obvious symptoms, or they may show different symptoms of an infection. The symptoms of an infection may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your doctor 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. Various tests may be performed routinely 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

Specific treatment for an infection will be determined by your doctor based on:

  • Your pregnancy, overall health, and medical history

  • Extent of the disease

  • Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies

  • Expectations for the course of the disease

  • Your opinion or preference

  • Type of infection

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 avoiding 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.