Perinatal infections

Perinatal infections include bacterial or viral illnesses that can be passedfrom a mother to her baby either while the baby is still in the uterus, during the delivery process, or shortly after birth. Maternal infection can, in some cases, cause complications at birth. The mother may or may not experienceactive symptoms of the infection during the pregnancy. The most serious and most common perinatal infections, and the impact of these diseases on the mother and infant, are discussed below in alphabetical order. It is important tonote that men can become infected and can transmit many of these infections to other women. The sexual partners of women who have these infections shouldalso seek medical treatment.

Chlamydia trachomatis is the most common bacterial sexually transmitted disease in the United States, causing more than 4 million infections each year. The majority of women with chlamydial infection experience no obvious symptoms. The infection affects the reproductive tract and causes pelvic inflammatory disease, infertility, and ectopic pregnancy (the fertilized egg implants somewhere other than in the uterus). This infection can cause premature rupture of the membranes and early labor. It can be passed to the infant duringdelivery and can cause ophthalmia neonatorum (an eye infection) within the first month of life and pneumonia within one to three months of age. Symptomsof chlamydial pneumonia are a repetitive cough and rapid breathing. Wheezingis rare and the infant does not develop a fever

Cytomegalovirus (CMV) is a very common virus in the herpes virus family. It is found in saliva, urine and other body fluids and can be spread through sexual contact or other more casual forms of physical contact like kissing. In adults, CMV may cause mild symptoms of swollen lymph glands, fever, and fatigue. Many people who carry the virus experience no symptoms at all. Infants canbecome infected with CMV while still in the uterus if the mother becomes infected or develops a recurrence of the infection during pregnancy. Most infantsexposed to CMV before birth develop normally and do not show any symptoms. As many as 6,000 infants who were exposed to CMV before birth are born with serious complications each year. CMV interferes with normal fetal development and can cause mental retardation, blindness, deafness, or epilepsy in these infants.

Genital herpes, which is usually caused by Herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2), is a sexually transmitted disease that causes painful sores on the genitals. Women who have their first outbreak of genital herpes during pregnancy areat high risk of miscarriage or delivering a low birth weight baby. The infection can be passed to the infant at the time of delivery if the mother has anactive sore. The most serious risk to the infant is the possibility of developing HSV-2 encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain, with symptoms of irritability and poor feeding.

Hepatitis B is a contagious virus that causes liver damage and is a leading cause of chronic liver disease and cirrhosis. Approximately 20,000 infants areborn each year to mothers who test positive for the hepatitis B virus. Theseinfants are at high risk for developing hepatitis B infection through exposure to their mothers blood during delivery.

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a serious, contagious virus that causesacquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). About one-fourth of pregnant women with HIV pass the infection on to their newborn infants. An infant with HIVusually develops AIDS and dies before the age of two.

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a sexually transmitted disease that causes genital warts and can increase the risk of developing some cancers. HPV appears to be transferred from the mother to the infant during the birth process.

Rubella is a virus that causes German measles, an illness that includes rash,fever, and symptoms of an upper respiratory tract infection. Most people areexposed to rubella during childhood and develop antibodies to the virus so they will never get it again. Rubella infection during early pregnancy can pass through the placenta to the developing infant and cause serious birth defects including heart abnormalities, mental retardation, blindness, and deafness.

Group B streptococcus (GBS) infection is the most common bacterial cause of infection and death in newborn infants. In women, GBS can cause vaginitis andurinary tract infections. Both infections can cause premature birth and the bacteria can be transferred to the infant in the uterus or during delivery. GBS causes pneumonia, meningitis, and other serious infections in infants.

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted bacterial infection that can be transferred from a mother to an infant through the placenta before birth. Up to 50% ofinfants born to mothers with syphilis will be premature, stillborn, or will die shortly after birth. Infected infants may have severe birth defects. Thoseinfants who survive infancy may develop symptoms of syphilis up to two yearslater.

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