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Information from Your Family Doctor
Infections During Pregnancy: What You Should Know
Am Fam Physician. 2005 Apr 15;71(8):1561-1562.
What if I get sick while I'm pregnant?
Most sicknesses that happen while you are pregnant are not serious. But there are some infections that can hurt your baby, such as chickenpox, German measles, and some sexually transmitted infections.
What can I do to keep from getting serious infections?
Before you get pregnant, you should have a blood test done to see if you are immune to German measles. If you have not had chickenpox, you should get tested to see if you are immune. If you are not immune, you can get shots that will keep you from getting these infections.
You also should think about being tested for infections that can be spread through sex. These include gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis, hepatitis B and C, and human immunodeficiency virus (or HIV, for short). If your partner has an infection, or if you don't know if your partner has been tested, be sure to use a condom every time you have sex.
Can I still be tested if I am already pregnant?
Yes, all pregnant women should be tested for serious infections. If you were not tested before you got pregnant, you should see your doctor as soon as you can.
Will my doctor do any other tests?
When you are in your 12th to 16th week of pregnancy, your doctor will do a urine test to check for infections. If you have an infection, your doctor will give you antibiotics. Late in your pregnancy, your doctor will ask if you want to be tested for germs called group B streptococcus (or GBS, for short). The test is done by taking a sample from the vagina and rectal area. One in every three to 10 women have GBS, but it usually does not cause problems. Babies can catch GBS in the birth canal and get very sick, but this is rare. If you have GBS, your doctor will give you antibiotics when you are in labor.
What else can I do to keep from getting serious infections while I am pregnant?
If you have a cat, you should clean the litter box every day. Wear gloves and wash your hands afterward, or have someone clean the litter box for you. Cats can pass along an infection called toxoplasmosis (say: tox-oh-plas-MOH-sis). You also can get this infection from soil where there is cat feces, so wear gloves when you are gardening. Touching and eating raw meat also can put you at risk for infection. Make sure you cook meat well, and wash your hands, cutting boards, countertops, knives, and dishes with warm, soapy water. Wash all fruits and vegetables before eating them.
Do not drink unpasteurized milk or eat unpasteurized milk products. Soft cheeses such as Brie, feta, Camembert, and Mexican queso fresco may have bacteria that can cause infections. Cook leftover and ready-to-eat foods, such as hot dogs and cold cuts, until they are steaming hot. Do not eat refrigerated, smoked fish or food from deli counters, including prepared salads, paté, meats, and cheeses. Do not eat foods with raw or undercooked eggs, such as Caesar salad and raw cookie dough, or drink eggnog.
If you work with children or have young children in your home, wash your hands often, especially after changing diapers. Children can pass along infections that can hurt your baby. Tell your doctor if you have been around a child who has a serious illness.
What about herpes?
Let your doctor know if you or your partner has herpes. If you have herpes, the risk of spreading the infection to your baby is very small. Your doctor can tell you what to do to lower the risk even more. If you do not have herpes but your partner does, do not have sex when your partner has a herpes sore. You also should use a condom during sex while you are pregnant. Talk to your partner about taking medicine for herpes. Do not have oral sex if your partner has cold sores.
Should I get a flu shot while I am pregnant?
Women who will be pregnant during flu season (November to March) should get a flu shot. Flu shots usually are given after the 12th week of pregnancy. There is no reason to think that getting the shot earlier is unsafe. It is also safe to get a flu shot while you are breastfeeding.
This handout is provided to you by your family doctor and the American Academy of Family Physicians. Other health-related information is available from the AAFP online at http://familydoctor.org.
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.
Copyright © 2005 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
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