When you're expecting a baby, maintaining good health is more crucial than ever. In fact, the pregnancy may cause you to examine some previously ignored aspects of your health. For instance, knowing how different STIs can affect you during pregnancy will make you want to know your status ASAP.
The viruses and bacterial infections that make up sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are common, communicable, and potentially devastating to growing infants. For most adults, getting an STI is not a huge deal: you get some antibiotics from the doctor and the mystery bump is gone. But the same infections that are mere annoyances for healthy adults can be greatly damaging or even fatal for infants. Because of this, it's crucial to know your STI status prior to and during pregnancy.
To learn more about this topic, Romper reached out to Fred Wyand, director of communications for the American Sexual Health Association. His takeaway message is clear: get tested. At the initial prenatal visit, all women should be tested for syphilis, HIV, and hepatitis B, and women under 25 should also be tested for chlamydia and gonorrhea. "It's important to note that very high rates of chlamydia and gonorrhea are found in young women of child bearing age, and frequently these infections don't have symptoms, so testing is key," Wyand says. Most bacterial STIs can be treated and cured with antibiotics during pregnancy, and even viral STIs such as herpes or HIV can be managed, minimizing the risk of transference to the infant.
On a final note, STIs are simply medical conditions, and there should not be any moral status attributed to whether or not a person has one. It does not make anyone dirty or bad; it's just an infection. That said, persons who are trying to conceive and moms-to-be alike are wise to stay vigilant about their sexual health and STI status. Given the wealth of effective treatments for a number of conditions, not knowing your STI status is the most dangerous status of all.
About: An infection caused by Chlamydia trachomatis, this STI is common but potentially serious. A chlamydial infection can lead to health complications such as ectopic pregnancy, pelvic inflammatory disease, and pelvic pain, as explained by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. On a concerning note, most people who have chlamydia do not show any definite symptoms from the infection. Fortunately, a round of antibiotics is most often all it takes to cure chlamydia, as further explained by the CDC.
Pregnancy Concerns: This STI can cause many complications for a developing baby. According to the CDC, having chlamydia during pregnancy may result in complications such as conjunctivitis, newborn pneumonia, and preterm delivery. This is why screening for chlamydia is common at the first prenatal visit. If you potentially contacted chlamydia since this initial screening, then visit a healthcare provider ASAP.
About: Another common STI, gonorrhea is caused by bacterial infection. Because most people with the infection do not show any symptoms, gonorrhea can be difficult to detect without a doctor's test, as noted by Planned Parenthood. (Burning when you urinate seems to be the main symptom that does show up). That said, it is also cured with antibiotics in most instances, so getting diagnosed with gonorrhea is generally not the end of the world.
Pregnancy Concerns: Although gonorrhea is easy enough to treat for most healthy adults, it can create serious complications for infants. Gonorrhea can be passed from mother to child at birth, and infants exposed to the STI are at risk for joint problems, blindness, and potentially fatal blood infections, as further noted by Planned Parenthood. Early testing and treatment is key for protecting the health of you and your baby.
About: The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is the virus responsible for causing AIDS. HIV attacks and destroys cells in the person's immune system, making common infections such as tuberculosis or meningitis potentially severe, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Although there is not yet a cure for the virus, HIV can be effectively managed with antiretroviral drugs, as further noted by the WHO. Persons who receive treatment for HIV can go on to live full lives.
Pregnancy Concerns: Pregnancy, breastfeeding, and even birth itself can cause a baby to contract HIV from the mother. The HIV virus may cross the placental barrier during pregnancy, contact the baby via fluids during labor, or even get transmitted to the infant through breast milk, according to the March of Dimes. Without treatment, infants infected with HIV do risk becoming fatally ill. However, with efficient HIV treatment, more than 95 percent of these infected infants survive and go on to live a normal life, as further noted by the March of Dimes. Early detection and treatment for HIV is critical.
About: More than 100 types of the human papillomavirus (HPV) are known to exist, and most only result in the growth of warts, according to the Mayo Clinic. Many types of cancer, however, have been associated with some types of HPV infection. In addition, the presence of contagious warts alone can present health concerns.
Pregnancy Concerns: Genital warts can complicate delivery. Basically, large warts can potentially block the birth canal, making vaginal delivery difficult. What's more, the HPV infection has also been connected to a type of growth in the baby's larynx, as further explained by the Mayo Clinic.
5. Hepatitis B
About: Hepatitis B is an infection that can lead to vastly different responses in people. According to the CDC, acute Hepatitis B can cause a mild illness that lasts for a few weeks, whereas chronic Hepatitis B can cause serious liver conditions or liver cancer. Basically, the infection can produce benign, cold-like symptoms for a few days, or it can turn into a severe, lifelong condition.
Pregnancy Concerns: Without treatment, babies are more than 90 percent likely to develop chronic Hepatitis B if their mom has the condition, according to the Hepatitis B Foundation. This is the more serious, potentially fatal version of the condition. If a mother's Hepatitis B status is known, however, doctors can arrange to have medications available in the delivery room to keep the baby safe from infection, as further noted in by the Hepatitis B Foundation.
About: Another common STI, herpes is a virus that often does not produce many symptoms, according to the CDC. Even if the genital herpes sores do appear, they are often mild and easy to mistake for other skin conditions. Although there is not yet a cure for the condition, medication can shorten or prevent outbreaks from occurring.
Pregnancy Concerns: Although it's more or less an annoyance to most healthy adults, herpes can cause serious complications for infants. According to the American Sexual Health Association, infants may contract neonatal herpes, a rare condition that may result in mental retardation, central nervous system damage, or even death. It occurs most often when the mother acquires genital herpes in the later stages of pregnancy, because the mother's body does not have time to create antibodies to protect the baby.
About: A bacterial infection, syphilis shows up as an unremarkable sore — which can then wait in your body for decades, dormant, as noted by the Mayo Clinic. If left unchecked, the infection can damage vital organs or even turn fatal. However, in its early stages, most syphilis infections can be easily cured with penicillin, as further noted by the Mayo Clinic.
Pregnancy Concerns: A host of concerns, including organ damage, low birth weight, still birth, or fetal death, can accompany the transmission of syphilis to a fetus, according to the American Pregnancy Association (APA). Left untreated, the odds of a fetus contracting syphilis from the mother are almost 100 percent, as further explained by the APA. With sufficient treatment, however, the baby is at a much lower risk of infection.