STIs, or sexually transmitted infections, are a common occurrence amongst the sexually active population. STIs consist of a bacterial or viral illness which a person can contract from having a genital, oral or anal sex with a person who has an STI. Many people dismiss STIs as common infections and treat them with regular antibiotics without realizing the consequences of inadequate treatment or delay in diagnosis. STIs are a serious health hazard and can cause serious adverse effects for a woman and her baby during pregnancy.
The most common STIs include:
1. Genital herpes
5. Hepatitis B
How can an STI infect a baby during pregnancy?
STIs sometimes can pass through the placenta or even infect the baby during labor and delivery which can, in turn, cause long-term irreversible health effects in the child. One of the common scenarios that an STI infects a baby is after the water breaks during labor and delivery. If an STI is neglected or not treated properly, it can cause miscarriage, preterm birth, premature rupture of membranes, uterine infection, and even stillbirth.
How can STD affect the pregnancy of an infected woman?
Diagnosing gonorrhea during pregnancy is relatively easy. Symptoms like burning sensation in the vagina, abdominal pain, and vaginal discharge are common. Most women will have symptoms if they have gonorrhea. If Gonorrhea is left untreated, it can lead to miscarriage or even preterm delivery. If a woman has an untreated infection during labor and delivery, the baby can develop blindness, a life-threatening blood infection, and even joint infection. Treatment is with oral antibiotics.
Chlamydia is considered a mild STI and can be treated with oral antibiotics, but can lead to problems in the newborn if neglected. Symptoms include vaginal discharge, painful urination and abdominal pain, but most of the time a woman may have no symptoms at all. Untreated chlamydia during labor and delivery can cause pneumonia in the newborn and eye infection as well. The good news is that it can be easily treated both in the mother and the child.
The symptoms of trichomoniasis are easy to recognize. Pregnant women with trichomoniasis can have abundant yellowish-green vaginal discharge, itching, and pain during intercourse. If untreated during pregnancy, preterm delivery, premature rupture of membranes and low birth weight may occur, or the baby may be born infected. Treatment is with oral antibiotics.
HIV or AIDS can be passed on to a child during pregnancy. The good news is that if a pregnant woman is HIV positive and is routinely taking medications to treat her HIV, the chances that the baby becomes infected are drastically reduced. The risk that HIV will infect an unborn baby greater if the women becomes infected during her pregnancy. Once acquired, HIV is an incurable disease. Regular therapy and combination drugs during pregnancy can prevent the disease from passing to the child. Treatment is with various oral antiretroviral medications.
Hepatitis B is a viral infection of the liver. Nowadays, most people are vaccinated during childhood. However, if woman has Hepatitis B before pregnancy or contracts it during pregnancy, the baby may become infected. If the infection does reach the baby, the child will likely be affected lifelong. All pregnant women are screened for Hepatitis B and are encouraged to get the vaccination if they have not already done so.
The diagnosis of syphilis is made through a blood test. All pregnant women are screened for syphilis during pregnancy. The symptoms of syphilis vary and can range from mild to severe. In fact, the symptoms may be so mild that diagnosis can be delayed. The chances of syphilis being passed down to the unborn child is high if the mother remains untreated. Syphilis can lead to premature birth, miscarriage, stillbirth, or infection in the newborn. If a baby is born infected with syphilis, the baby’s brain, eyes, heart, ears, skin, teeth and bones may be affected. Treatment is with intravenous antibiotics during pregnancy.
Genital warts are one of the most common forms of STIs. Symptoms of HPV (the virus that causes genital warts) or genital warts include cauliflower-like clusters formation which can either itch or burn. During pregnancy, there are some forms of treatment available during pregnancy, but most of the time treatment is delayed until after delivery unless the genital warts become problematic for the mother. During pregnancy, the size and number of genital warts may increase due to hormones of pregnancy. There are various forms of treatment available.
If you find yourself experiencing symptoms, consult your doctor as soon as possible since your child’s health may be affected. Stay aware, educated and stay healthy!
Shannon M. Clark, MD, MMS is a double board certified ObGyn and Maternal-Fetal Medicine Specialist, and founder of Babies After 35. In her roles as a clinician, educator and researcher at UTMB-Galveston, she focuses on the care of people with maternal and/or fetal complications of pregnancy. Dr. Clark has taken a special interest in pregnancy after the age of 35, which according to age alone, is considered a high-risk pregnancy.
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