Pregnancy infections

Proctect your unborn baby by knowing what serious pregancy infections there are and how to avoid them....

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Toxoplasmosis

What is it?
This infection is caused by a parasite found in cat poo, soil, meat and unpasteurised milk. Risks to an unborn baby include damage to the eyes and, very rarely, the brain. There are also risks of stillbirth or miscarriage.

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Midwife opinion
‘This is very rare – it’s thought only one in 500 women is affected during pregnancy. You may have had toxoplasmosis before pregnancy and not realised it – you either have flu-like symptoms or don’t show any signs – and once you’ve had it, you’re immune.’

How to avoid it
* Ask someone else to change your cat’s litter tray.
* Use gloves for gardening.
* Wash fruit, veg and salad (even bagged salad).
* Wash your hands after handling raw meat, make sure meat is well cooked, and avoid cured meats.
* Avoid unpasteurised milk

Treatment
Many women are already immune to it. The risk of a cat infecting you is low – only about 2% are thought to harbour the parasite at any one time. If you have any symptoms, your midwife or GP may offer a blood test. If positive, treatment includes antibiotics.

Group B Strep (GBS)

What is it?
This bacteria lives harmlessly in our bodies – a quarter of pregnant women in the UK are said to be GBS carriers. However, if it’s passed on to your baby during labour, it could cause septicaemia, pneumonia and meningitis.

Midwife opinion
‘During labour, it’s possible for a baby to come into contact with GBS, but it’s extremely rare for the baby to become infected. Even without preventative medicine, only one in 1,000 babies in the UK will actually be affected.’

How to avoid it
You can have a test done when you’re 35 to 37 weeks pregnant to establish if you’re a carrier. It’s not routinely available through the NHS, but you can request a private test, which costs around £32. For more info see gbss.org.uk and click on ‘testing for GBS’

Treatment
If you’re a carrier, you can have intravenous antibiotics for at least four hours before delivery, which reduces the risk of your baby becoming infected with GBS. If that’s not possible, your newborn may be given antibiotics as a precaution.

Listeriosis

What is it?
This is caused by bacteria found in soil, animal poo and contaminated food. It can be passed on to the unborn baby, and very rarely, can cause miscarriage, premature labour or stillbirth.

Midwife opinion
‘Listeriosis can cause flu-like symptoms, cramps or diarrhoea. However, it is extremely rare – only one in 25,000 pregnant women contracts this infection.’

How to avoid it
* Avoid soft, mould-ripened cheeses such as Brie or blue-veined cheeses such as Stilton.
* Avoid pâté, even veggie, and unpasteurised dairy items.
* Wash all fruit, veg and salad (even bagged salad).
* Always cook ready meals until piping hot.

Treatment
If you have symptoms, and think you may have eaten one of the foods mentioned, then tell your GP or midwife as soon as possible. It can be diagnosed with a blood test. If the test is positive, you can be treated with antibiotics

Salmonella

What is it?
This is a bacteria that causes food poisoning and can be found in poultry, meat, eggs from unvaccinated hens and unprocessed milk. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal pain and fever.

Midwife opinion
‘Salmonella will make you feel very unwell and can cause dehydration, but will only affect your baby in very severe cases.’

How to avoid it
* Always wash your hands before cooking and after handling raw meat.
* Avoid runny eggs and foods made with raw or partially-cooked eggs.
* Make sure meat and poultry are well cooked and keep raw meat separately in the fridge.

Treatment
The risk is tiny – practise good hygiene and you should be fine. Prompt antibiotic treatment is given if diagnosed.

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Further advice

  • For help and support with GBS, visit gbss.org.uk.
  • For further information about any of the above infections, visit tommys.org or call its midwife-staffed Pregnancy Information Line on 0800 0147 800.
  • For immediate health concerns, call NHS Direct on 0845 4647 (or 08454 242424 in Scotland) or contact your midwife or GP.
  • Midwife opinion supplied by Sharon Broad

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