Prenatal Infection Prevention Month

Protect your baby from the very beginning

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

To observe Prenatal Infection Prevention Month and to educate expectant mother's, here is a list of common prenatal infections and how to avoid them.

Prenatal infections are unexpectedly common, yet many pregnant women do not know that they are infected or that their babies may be at risk of infection. Some of the most common prenatal infections include group B strep, cytomegalovirus, and listerosis. These infections can lead to health complications for both mothers and their babies. However, they can be prevented if pregnant women and their doctors take the correct precautions.

Group B Strep

Group B strep is a bacterial infection that usually affects infants within the first week after birth. Babies are most commonly exposed to the bacteria, which is carried in the vagina or rectal area of mothers, during the time of birth. Infections can occur in infants later than one week. This is known as a late-onset infection.

Approximately 1,700 newborns are infected by group B strep every year. Although 25 percent of pregnant women carry group B strep, many of them do not have symptoms and consequently do not know their babies are at risk. As such, expectant mothers should be tested for group B strep.

Symptoms of group B strep in newborns include pneumonia, sepsis (blood infection), and meningitis. Up to five percent of babies with group B strep will die from the infection. Premature babies are especially at risk of death. Babies with group B strep who develop meningitis have an increased risk of developing cerebral palsy, sight and hearing loss, mental retardation, learning disabilities, and seizures.

Symptoms of group B strep in mothers include uterine infection, preterm labor, and stillbirth. After birth, women can also develop a urinary tract infection. Antibiotics are used to treat both uterine infections and urinary tract infections.

According to Jon Klein, M.D., medical director of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at University of Iowa Children's Hospital, "The best [group B strep] test is a culture from the regions of the birth canal, and this culture usually is done between 35 and 37 weeks of gestation. If we know this culture is positive, we can help prevent transmission of this bacteria through the birth canal to the baby."

If a women has not been tested for group B strep, or is in preterm labor, rapid tests are available.

Once doctors know that a woman is infected with group B strep, they can begin to take the proper precautions to avoid or treat infection in the baby. A common treatment is the use of antibiotics during labor. If a baby is diagnosed with group B strep infection after birth, antibiotics again will be used to fight the infection.


Normally, cytomegalovirus is a viral infection that can be harmless and symptomless. However, if a pregnant woman is infected, she can pass the virus to her baby. A baby infected with cytomegalovirus faces the risk of lifelong illnesses and disabilities, as well as increased risk of death.

Cytomegalovirus is a highly common infection of newborns and children. However, according to a recent study, only 14 percent of US women have heard of the infection.

The signs and symptoms of cytomegalovirus infection that may be apparent at birth include premature birth, liver problems, lung problems, spleen problems, small birth size, small head size, and seizures. Health complications that result from cytomegalovirus infection include hearing loss, vision loss, mental disability, small head size, lack of coordination, seizures, and death in some cases.

Cytomegalovirus is most commonly transmitted through the bodily fluids (such as urine, saliva, blood, and semen) of infected individuals. A pregnant woman can pass on infection to her child during pregnancy when the mother's infected blood crosses through the placenta into the fetus' blood.

The best way for a woman to avoid passing on infection to her unborn child is to avoid infection herself by avoiding sexual contact with infected individuals and avoiding contact with the urine and saliva of young children with cytomegalovirus infection.

The majority of infants infected with cytomegalovirus appear healthy at birth. Yet health complications may not appear until two or more years after birth. If your baby is diagnosed with cytomegalovirus infection, he or she should have regular hearing and vision check-ups. According to the CDC, 80 percent of infants with cytomegalovirus will never develop symptoms or disabilities. However, if symptoms do arise, early detection can help reduce the damage.


Listeriosis is a type of food poisoning caused by bacteria found in products such as unpasteurized milk, foods made from unpasteurized milk, poultry, and ready-to-eat meats (e.g. cold cuts and deli meats). If a pregnant woman becomes infected with listeriosis, she may experience a miscarriage, premature birth, or a still birth. Her baby also faces an increased risk of illness and death.

Each year, approximately 1,600 people in the United States become seriously ill from listeriosis. Of these infected individuals, 260 will die. Pregnant women are approximately 20 times more likely than other adults to get listeriosis, yet their newborns are more likely to suffer the most serious effects of listeriosis infection.

A listeriosis infection may begin with symptoms similar to the flu, such as fever, muscle aches, chills, nausea, and diarrhea. Like cytomegalovirus infection, listeriosis also can lead to more serious health complications including meningitis and blood infection. A simple blood test will detect a listerosis infection.

According to the FDA, pregnant woman should take the following steps to prevent listeriosis in themselves and their children:

  • Avoid eating hot dogs or deli meats.
  • If you insist on eating hot dogs or deli meats, make sure to reheat them until they are steaming hot.
  • Do not eat soft cheeses, such as feta, brie, Camembert, Roquefort, blue-veined, queso blanco, queso fresco, and Panela. (However, it may be safe to eat such cheeses if the label says that the cheese was made with pasteurized milk)
  • Avoid eating any pates or meat spreads.
  • Avoid eating smoked seafood. It is safer to eat seafood if it has been cooked.
  • Do not consume unpasteurized milk or any food products made with unpasteurized milk.

The above infections are only the most common and serious prenatal infections. Pregnant woman and their children are at risk of plenty of other infections. Simply becoming aware of certain infections and risk factors for getting infections will likely reduce your risk of becoming infected. If you are pregnant, or expecting to become pregnant, you should ask your doctor for the proper tests in order to protect yourself and your baby from serious health complications and illnesses.

Review Date: 
February 8, 2011