How to control infections during pregnancy

Like all adults and children, pregnant women are at risk of developing viral and bacterial infections.

Infections are a particular concern during pregnancy since some infections are more severe in pregnant women, may harm the foetus or new-born, or be passed from a woman to her unborn baby.


Pregnant women can get infections from different sources, just like everyone else. People can get infections from other people, animals, mosquitoes, and certain foods.


However, one can take some steps to decrease the chance of developing this potentially harmful illness during pregnancy.


Pregnant women can get infections by person-to-person contact, such as kissing, sexual contact, and getting saliva or urine on their hands and then touching their eyes or the inside of their nose or mouth. Good hygiene practices, such as frequent hand washing and avoiding contact with another person’s saliva through shared foods, drinks, or utensils, can lessen your chances of becoming infected with potentially harmful illnesses.

Good hygiene is particularly important for pregnant women who have young children or work with them, as in day care centres or schools. Some potentially harmful infections, such as cytomegalovirus, are more prevalent in young children.

Hand washing is an essential and very effective way to prevent the spread of infection. Hands should be wet with water and plain or antimicrobial soap and rubbed together for 15 to 30 seconds. Pay special attention to the fingernails, between the fingers, and the wrists. Rinse the hands thoroughly and dry with preferably a single use towel.

Pregnant women should take precaution that reduces the risk of acquiring mosquito-borne infections such as malaria by use of protective clothing, avoiding the outdoors when mosquitoes are most active (dawn and dusk), and use of properly treated mosquito nets.

Pregnant women should be aware that the risk of being infected with a sexually transmitted infection may increase if one has more than one sexual partner, or if their partner has more than one sexual partner.

Avoiding travel to high risk locations is one way to minimise the chances of becoming infected with certain infectious diseases. In more developed settings, women who are planning international travel during pregnancy consult with their travel clinic about the safety of their planned destination.

Children and other family household members should be up to date with their immunisations; this decreases a pregnant woman’s risk of exposure to infections during pregnancy.

Women who are pregnant or planning pregnancy should avoid contact with all rodents and should not change cat litter boxes, or should wear gloves and then wash their hands.

Several infectious diseases can cause problems in pregnancy. Currently, these infections cannot be prevented with a vaccine. These infections are best avoided by practicing good hygiene and avoiding direct contact with infected individuals (although this may be difficult in some cases).

Parvovirus is spread from person to person. It can cause a rash on the face, chest, back, arms, and legs. It can also cause joint pain and body aches. It is difficult to avoid contact with people who are infected with parvovirus because the infection is common in the community and an infected person is contagious before symptoms develop. Frequent hand washing and avoiding shared food, drinks, or utensils can help to prevent infection. Pregnant women who become infected with parvovirus are monitored closely for signs of complications. Rarely, parvovirus can cause a miscarriage, foetal anaemia (low blood count), or foetal heart problems.

Cytomegalovirus (CMV) is a virus that is transmitted by sexual contact or close contact with an infected person’s saliva, urine, or other body fluids. The virus can cause serious problems for infants of mothers who are infected with CMV during pregnancy. The risk of becoming infected with CMV for the first time is higher for pregnant women who live with young children or work in day care centres.

People can get toxoplasmosis from eating uncooked meat or by touching cat waste when changing a cat’s litter box. Toxoplasmosis can affect the foetus if a woman becomes infected during pregnancy.

Listeria is a bacterial infection that can cause foetal death, premature birth, or new-born infection. It can be passed from an infected mother to her foetus through the blood. Signs and symptoms of listeria include fever, chills, and back pain; a nonspecific flu-like illness is the most common symptom.

People can get it from eating spoiled food. Sometimes, it can be hard to tell if food is spoiled. Because of this, it is recommended that pregnant women avoid certain foods, such as raw milk, and soft cheeses.

Dr. Ian Shyaka ,

Resident in Surgery, Rwanda Military Hospital,

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