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International Prenatal Infection Prevention Month

February is International Prenatal Infection Prevention Month. Below, WakeMed OB/GYN, Dr. Elizabeth Jarvis, discusses some of the common infections that mothers pass on to their unborn children as well as ways to prevent the spread of infection.

What is International Prenatal Infection Prevention Month?

International Prenatal Infection Prevention Month is recognized as a time to promote national health observance for prevention of infection during pregnancy. National organizations including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) share helpful information on their websites regarding common infections that mothers might pass on to their unborn children nationally and abroad.

What are some of the most common infections that mothers pass on to their unborn children?

There are many potential infections that can potentially be passed to unborn children. Today, I will highlight a few of the more common infections in our local area and nationally.

Zika Virus

Zika virus infection during pregnancy is spread through the bite of an infected mosquito as well as by intercourse with an affected person. Zika virus infection can cause birth defects such as microcephaly, a condition in which a baby’s head is significantly smaller than expected, often with abnormal brain development.

Preventing Zika Virus

To prevent Zika virus infection, pregnant women should not travel to areas with Zika. If you must travel to an area of transmission, talk to your doctor about steps to prevent mosquito bites.

  • Wear long sleeved shirts and long pants
  • Stay in places with air conditioning and/or screens to keep mosquitoes out
  • Sleep under a mosquito bed net if outdoors
  • Use insect repellent

Other Considerations

If you are concerned that your partner has traveled to an area with Zika, you should use condoms every time your have intercourse or abstain from intercourse during pregnancy.

The CDC has up to date recommendations for areas that may have active transmission of the virus. These areas change over time, so it is recommended to check prior to planning a trip. Check the CDC’s website for the most up-to-date information on Zika travel information. The CDC also provides guidance for those considering becoming pregnant.

Pregnant women on sofa

Group Beta Strep (GBS)

About 1 in 4 women in the United States carry the bacteria that can cause infection in babies. Infants with group B strep infection can develop serious illness and even death. The bacteria is transmitted to the newborn during childbirth. Fortunately, there is an antibiotic that can be administered during labor to prevent the bacteria from being transmitted to baby.

Preventing GBS

Pregnant women can help to avoid this infection by talking with their doctor about getting a group B strep test between 35 to 37 weeks of pregnancy. If a woman is a carrier of the bacteria, she should be offered antibiotics in labor. The type of antibiotic depends on the mother’s antibiotic allergies, so it is important to communicate allergies with your doctor.

Cytomegalovirus (CMV) Infection

Cytomegalovirus (CMV) Infection is a virus that a woman can pass to her baby during pregnancy. Many babies born with CMV infection will not have symptoms or problems, but some will have problems including hearing or vision loss, and intellectual disability. The virus is transmitted through bodily fluids. Mothers with young children are more likely to be exposed to CMV.

Preventing CMV Infection

The best way to prevent CMV is regular hand washing!


Pregnant women are 10 times more likely than the general population to get an infection called Listeriosis. Listeriosis is caused by eating food contaminated with the bacteria, Listeria. Symptoms may include fever and flu-like symptoms such as fatigue and muscle ache.

Infection during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery and infection of the newborn.

Preventing Listeriosis

To protect yourself from Listeria, avoid eating cheese from unpasteurized milk. Generally, avoid soft cheeses that sit at room temperature.  Avoid raw (unpasteurized) milk. Wash all vegetables well. Avoid eating lunch or deli meats unless heated to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.  Also, wash your hands!

Parents holding baby shoes

How can moms protect themselves (and their unborn babies) against infection?

There are a few simple steps which can help mothers protect themselves and their unborn children against infection.

First and foremost, hand washing! Good hand washing practices  are critical for infection prevention.

At all new obstetric visits with WakeMed providers, we review some of the common infections and how to prevent them.  There is a widely use mnemonic, “HYGIENE” that lends to helpful tips to avoid infection:

  • H: Handwashing
  • Y: “Yes” to prenatal care
  • G: eating Good and safe food
  • I: saying yes to Immunizations
  • E: Evading others’ bodily fluids
  • N: No to unnecessary invasive prodedures
  • E: Environmental precaution to avoid infection

One of the major goals of the NICHD and CDC has been to reduce transmission of infection in pregnancy. WakeMed providers actively follow recommendations and updates to care as received by these organizations and incorporate them into standard prenatal care.

About Elizabeth Jarvis, MD

Dr. Jarvis is an OB/GYN with WakeMed Physician Practices. Her clinical interests include fertility, abnormal uterine bleeding, minimally invasive and robotic-assisted surgery, family planning and contraception, high risk and routine obstetrics care. Learn more about Dr. Jarvis, and schedule an appointment today!