One too many times, we have heard about how important it is to get regularly screened for STDs, but we feel like more education can be spread about how STDs can affect pregnant women and their babies. The first question that people can ask is “can pregnant women get STDs?” The answer to this is, yes, they can. Similar to women who are not pregnant, women who are undergoing pregnancy pose the same risks to be exposed to sexual diseases. Being pregnant does not mean that there is an additional layer of protection shielding women against particular diseases.
Since STDs are sneaky and silent in nature, official organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that all pregnant women be tested for several infections such as HIV, syphilis, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C. Additional screenings for chlamydia, gonorrhea and TB might be needed for those at risk for infection. Getting tested for STDs is part of early prenatal screening and this step is crucial because the effects that STDs can bring are even more serious for pregnant women and their babies. With STDs, it is never wise to put off testing, because the earlier we get diagnosed, the faster we can get treated with the correct medications and care. Below are several STDs that can be transmitted to babies during pregnancy.
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is probably the most feared STD considering the fact that up to this day, no effective cure has been found. The virus develops in 3 stages: acute HIV infection, chronic HIV infection and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). During a woman’s pregnancy, HIV can be passed on via the placenta and thus infecting the fetus. What is more, infection can also occur during labor, vaginal delivery and breastfeeding. The baby can be exposed to the virus when they come in contact with the mother’s blood or other fluids. However, necessary steps can be taken to minimize the risks of passing the virus to the baby. Some ways that can be taken are taking antiretroviral medications as prescribed, opting for cesarean birth if the viral load is high and taking anti-HIV drugs during labor, delivery and after birth. Refraining from breastfeeding is also required.
Chlamydia is an STD resulting from a bacterial infection. Although chlamydia is one of the four curable STDs, if suffered during pregnancy, this disease can result in preterm labor, premature rupture of membranes and insufficient weight at birth. Chlamydia can be transmitted to babies during vaginal deliveries. Early diagnosis is key, because chlamydia can go unnoticed and undetected. However, the good news is, pregnant women who get diagnosed can be treated with antibiotics, therefore eliminating the risks of passing the infection to the baby. If infections do occur to babies, they may develop health problems such as conjunctivitis (eye infection) and pneumonia.
Similar to chlamydia, syphilis is curable. Syphilis can spread through vaginal, anal and oral sex. Making direct contact with an infected person’s syphilis sore is also one way you can contract it. Syphilis sores can be discovered on external genitals, in the vagina, anus, rectum, or around the mouth area. This sexual disease is an infection that is preventable and if pregnant women get syphilis, early treatment is of the essence. In most cases, syphilis is transmitted to the baby during pregnancy, but it is not possible that this can happen when vaginal deliveries occur. If left untreated, syphilis in pregnancy can cause miscarriages, premature births, stillbirths and death after birth. 40% of babies who are born to women with untreated syphilis do not survive. Infants who are untreated may have the risks of multiple organ complications.
Hepatitis B is one of incurable STDs along with herpes and HIV. This disease is a viral infection that causes liver problems. It is classified as an STD because people can contract it if they make contact with an infected person’s body fluids during sex. Sadly, the virus is mainly transmitted through birth and delivery. Hepatitis B, unlike chlamydia or trichomoniasis, can be life-threatening and lead to chronic and acute diseases. Cirrhosis and liver cancer are two chronic conditions resulting from hepatitis B. 90% of babies who are infected with hepatitis B are at increased risks for hazardous liver diseases. Right after delivery, babies who are born to HBV-positive mothers have to be given the first dose of hepatitis B vaccine and one dose of hepatitis B immune globulin. If a woman is aware that she is infected, she should notify the doctor right away so that these two shots can be prepared prior to delivery.
Like hepatitis B, hepatitis C causes liver inflammation caused by hepatitis C virus. The impacts that hepatitis C brings are pretty similar to hepatitis B. Its severity varies from causing acute illnesses to chronic illnesses. Cirrhosis and liver cancer are two lifelong problems that can occur. Hepatitis C can occur through vertical transmission or exposure to blood during unsafe drug injections and blood transfusions. The impacts of hepatitis C in pregnancy outcomes are severe since they may lead to fetal growth restriction, poor birth weight, preterm labor and congenital anomalies.
Gonorrhea is a bacterial infection spread through anal, oral and vaginal sex. One thing to know about this sexual disease is the fact that it is highly contagious. Incubation periods usually range from 2 to 10 days after exposure. If a woman is infected with gonorrhea during pregnancy, she carries greater risks for miscarriage, prelabor rupture of membranes, preterm birth and infection of the amniotic sac and fluid. Babies who are infected with this disease may develop serious eye infections. The good news is that gonorrhea can be treated with antibiotics.
We will never tire of reminding you that when it comes to STDs, prevention and early diagnosis by getting tested for STDs make all the difference in the world. Shim Clinic is always at your service as your STD clinic in Singapore.