Q&A: Other Illnesses and Pregnancy

If you think you've been exposed to an infection or disease while pregnant, be sure to follow these guidelines to keep you and your baby safe.

Q. What about other illnesses? What do I do if I think I've been exposed to them?

A. Try as you might, it is impossible to live your life normally and avoid all contact with possibly contagious people (like the sneezing boy next door) and germs (like those inhabiting public restrooms). If you think you have been exposed to the following infectious illnesses, call your doctor right away:

  • Fifth disease. This oddly titled viral infection gets its name from being one of the five common childhood diseases that cause fever and a rash due to parvovirus. (The other four are measles, mumps, chicken pox, and rubella. Fifth disease is the least serious of the bunch.)

    Primarily an infection of childhood, fifth disease may cause a rash or arthritis-like stiffness and joint pain. Or it may cause no symptoms at all. In rare cases fifth disease can cause severe fetal anemia that leads to miscarriage, fetal hydrops, or stillbirth.

    Fifth disease is contagious before it shows any symptoms, so it's difficult to avoid. The best precaution is to wash your hands frequently, particularly after you've been with children.
  • Cytomegalovirus. Most adults have had this infection already, but because it produces few or no symptoms, they never knew they had it. If there are symptoms, they are similar to those of the common cold or flu: sore throat, fever, fatigue, and swollen glands.

    Teachers, daycare providers, nurses, and parents of toddlers are at highest risk for cytomegalovirus. It is spread via body fluids, so if you change diapers, be sure to always wear gloves or wash your hands
    thoroughly afterward.

    Unfortunately, if a woman catches cytomegalovirus for the first time during pregnancy, her fetus is at risk. The virus can cause birth defects such as blindness, mental retardation, and deafness. It is the most common cause of congenital-viral infection in the United States. If you've already had it and you become infected again, there's a much smaller chance that your baby will be severely harmed.
  • Lyme disease. This bacterial infection is spread by infected deer ticks. It causes a rash -- usually a bull's-eye-shape rash -- and if it's not treated in its early stage, it can go on to cause a wide variety of serious symptoms that affect the joints, heart, skin, and nervous system.

    Pregnant women who get Lyme disease may receive ampicillin or a cephalosporin, both of which are safe during pregnancy. Little is known about the impact of Lyme disease on a fetus, although researchers suspect that in rare cases, Lyme disease acquired during pregnancy may be associated with stillbirth.

    To prevent Lyme disease, check yourself, your pets, and other family members for ticks after spending time outdoors. If you find a deer tick, remove it: Use tweezers to grasp the head of the tick and pull it straight out. It takes 36-48 hours for a tick to transmit the bacteria, so do tick checks every 24 hours if you or your pets go outside in areas with tick infestation.

Originally published in You & Your Baby: Pregnancy.

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