These commonplace diseases can be fatal for unborn babies if you contract them during pregnancy. But take a deep breath: The odds are definitely in your favor as long as you take the right precautions.

By Christin Perry
September 24, 2019

While there's certainly no reason to panic over every little thing during your pregnancy, there are some diseases during pregnancy that truly are cause for concern. Of course, there's no need to live in a bubble during your pregnancy.

Most of these diseases can be avoided with good hygiene habits like regular hand-washing and staying away from sick people. Several can be kept at bay with vaccinations that protect you and baby at the same time. And of course, common sense measures like engaging in safe sex with one partner and avoiding drugs, alcohol and no-no foods like raw fish are helpful measures, too.

Keep reading for our comprehensive guide to diseases that can turn deadly during pregnancy to keep yourself informed and on the right track to a healthy birth.

Cytomegalovirus (CMV)

Most people who come down with this common respiratory virus don't even realize they're sick with anything more than a cold. But if you happen to become infected during pregnancy, it can spell disaster for your unborn baby. That's because cytomegalovirus, or CMV as it's widely known,

Cytomegalovirus, or CMV as it's widely known, spreads through saliva, mucus, and other bodily fluids. Symptoms can include fever, sore throat, swollen glands, and fatigue, and it can cause life-altering and sometimes fatal complications in a fetus, like microcephaly, deafness, blindness, and even learning disabilities.

Sadly, the fatality rate of CMV in unborn babies is about 5%. Florencia Segura, a pediatrician with Einstein Pediatrics says, "CMV is the most common congenital viral infection. Every year, 20,000 to 40,000 infants are born with congenital CMV. It is way more common and just as dangerous as Zika virus but currently gets almost no media coverage."

STDs

Chances are, your doctor screened you for common sexually transmitted diseases during one of your early prenatal visits. That's because many STDs can be harmful to a fetus if you happen to be infected during pregnancy.

"Chlamydia can lead to things like preterm labor from premature rupture of membranes (PROM), as well as low birth weight," says Dr. Nikola Djordjevic from MedAlertHelp.com. "Syphilis and Hepatitis C can both have similar effects, including the possibility of stillbirth. Other effects of STIs on baby can include pneumonia, blood infections, brain damage, and chronic liver disease."

The Flu

Getting a flu shot during pregnancy is a no-brainer since contracting the flu during pregnancy can have deadly consequences for your baby. Aside from the fact that you may have more severe symptoms than your non-pregnant peers, the flu can affect your fetus by increasing the likelihood of premature labor, birth defects such as neural tube defects, and if severe enough, can even lead to fetal death.

Rubella

Thanks to the MMR vaccine, rubella isn't one of the diseases during pregnancy that you hear much about anymore. Though it's uncommon, it's still a good idea to get current on vaccines, including the MMR, prior to pregnancy, or very early on. That's because fetal exposure to the rubella virus can lead to life-long complications like heart defects, liver damage and deafness, according to the CDC.

Toxoplasmosis

If you're a soon-to-be mama with a cat, rejoice! You just got out of litter box duty for nine months. There's a silver lining to everything, right? It's true—cat feces often carry Toxoplasmosa gondii, a parasite that's exceptionally harmful to a developing fetus. Other ways to contract toxoplasmosis are through unwashed vegetables and fruits that have been in contact with fecal matter through soil and gardening. To avoid toxoplasmosis in pregnancy, take these precautions:

  • Avoid eating undercooked meat or unwashed fruit and vegetables.
  • Don't rub your eyes or face when preparing food.
  • Keep your cat inside so it doesn't come into contact with the parasite and never let your cat eat uncooked meat.
  • Ask another person to change the cat litter box. If you must clean the cat litter box, wear rubber gloves and wash your hands afterward.
  • Use work gloves when gardening and wash your hands afterward.
  • Keep your children's sandbox covered when not in use to prevent cats from using it as a litter box.

Dr. Segura estimates that there are roughly 400 to 4,000 cases of congenital toxoplasmosis in the US each year, and "the spectrum of congenital toxoplasmosis includes seizures, blindness, intellectual disability, and death."

Listeriosis

It's definitely a good idea to steer clear of deli meat and soft, unpasteurized cheese during pregnancy, since these can increase your risk of contracting a type of food poisoning known as Listeria. Not only can Listeria lead to scary things like miscarriage and stillbirth, it can also infect an otherwise baby at birth, leading to symptoms similar to those of a severe bacterial infection, like meningitis or sepsis. Treatment for neonatal listeriosis involves antibiotics, but there is still a rather high death rate among newborns who contract listeriosis.

The best way to prevent listeriosis is to avoid or use extra caution with foods that might be contaminated with the Listeria bacteria. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the FDA provide the following advice for pregnant women on

  • Do not eat hot dogs, luncheon meats, or deli meats unless they are heated until steaming hot.
  • Do not eat soft cheeses such as Camembert, feta, Brie, blue-veined cheeses, and Mexican-style cheeses such as queso blanco fresco.
  • Do not eat refrigerated paté or meat spreads. Canned or shelf-stable paté and meat spreads are safe to eat.
  • Do not eat refrigerated smoked seafood unless it is an ingredient in a cooked dish such as a casserole.
  • Do not drink raw (unpasteurized) milk or juice. Do not eat foods that contain unpasteurized ingredients.
  • Thoroughly wash all fresh fruits and vegetables before eating.
  • Because Listeria can grow even at refrigeration temperatures of 40 degrees or below, use all perishable items that are precooked or ready-to-eat as soon as possible and clean your refrigerator on a regular basis.

Zika

A relative newcomer to the list of scary diseases to avoid during pregnancy is Zika virus, which is transmitted to humans via mosquito bites. While not yet a widespread threat in North American, Zika is a concern among regions in South and Central America, and can also be contracted from sexual contact with an infected partner. Though fetal death isn't the largest concern, there can be serious consequences for a fetus exposed to Zika.

"Zika virus is a teratogen, which means it can cause birth defects such as microcephaly, limb contractures, seizures, developmental delay, and blindness," according to Dr. Laura Riley, obstetrician and gynecologist-in-chief at NewYork-Presbyterian and Weill Cornell Medicine.

In order to protect yourself against this dangerous disease, she advises moms-to-be to avoid traveling to areas with widespread Zika, to use bug spray with DEET if it can't be avoided, and to use condoms if your partner has traveled to Zika-prevalent areas.

Group B Strep

Ahh, the old Group B Strep swab. You've probably heard plenty of horror stories about this test, but it's painless. Group B streptococcus is a common type of bacteria that is often found in the rectum or vagina of healthy women. The test involves a quick swab of both areas between weeks 35 and 37 of pregnancy. Exposure to Group B Strep, or GBS, can be deadly for a fetus or a newborn. According to the website groupbstrepinternational, GBS can cause miscarriage, severe illness, or even death if contracted during birth.

"GBS most commonly causes infection in the blood (sepsis), the fluid and lining of the brain (meningitis), and lungs (pneumonia), [but can also cause] handicaps such as blindness, deafness, mental challenges, and/or cerebral palsy.

Chicken Pox

Hopefully, you had this annoying, itchy rash as a child, since that unfortunate experience equates to life-long protection. If not, it's a good idea to get the chicken pox vaccine prior to getting pregnant. That's because there's a condition called congenital varicella (the virus that causes chicken pox) and it does way more than make your newborn itchy. If you happen to contract chicken pox during pregnancy, especially between weeks 8 and 20, the Mayo Clinic indicates that baby may suffer from skin scarring, and eye, brain, limb and gastrointestinal abnormalities.

Fifths disease

Fifths disease is a common childhood illness that you probably wouldn't have to worry about if you weren't pregnant. It's accompanied by mild respiratory symptoms and a "slapped cheek" appearance in otherwise healthy little ones, and it's spread by infected droplets traveling through the air, similar to the cold or flu. The problem is, fifths disease, which is a strain of parvovirus, can be deadly to a developing fetus in some cases.

Luckily, there's only about a 30% chance of the virus affecting your baby, which is only mildly comforting, since complications are scary. "When the unborn fetus is affected, there's a 5-10% rate of fetal loss. The infection can lead to severe fetal anemia (decreased red blood cell counts), generalized swelling, congestive heart failure, myocarditis, and a condition called hydrops fetalis in which there is excessive fluid in multiple fetal body compartments which can also lead to fetal death," says Segura.

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