International Prenatal Infection Prevention Month: "Survive and Thrive"

"Survive and thrive." That's the motto for International Prenatal Infection Prevention Month, observed each February as a time to raise awareness about the ways to prevent the transmission of infectious diseases from a mother to a fetus.

According to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, approximately 700,000 children less than one month of age die each year worldwide due to infectious diseases. Prenatal infections can also cause birth defects and lifelong disabilities such as hearing loss and learning problems.

Infections that can affect the health of the pregnancy and child include:

  • Group B Strep
  • Bacterial Vaginosis
  • Cytomegalovirus (CMV)
  • Chlamydia
  • Gonorrhea
  • Hepatitis B virus (HBV)
  • Hepatitis C virus (HCV)
  • Human Papillomavirus (HPV) 
  • Listeria
  • Toxoplasmosis
  • Zika

In addition to the above infections, congenital syphilis is a growing concern in the state of Alabama. The state reported 15 cases in 2019, 23 cases in 2020, and 36 cases in 2021. Of these reported cases, 79 percent of the mothers received prenatal care, but prevention opportunities, such as syphilis testing for early detection and adequate treatment, were missed. The most missed opportunities to prevent congenital syphilis among prenatal care recipients in Alabama were the lack of syphilis diagnosis early in the third trimester. Forty-four percent of these pregnant women had a negative syphilis test result at the first prenatal testing, but a positive test close to, or during, labor and delivery.

If left untreated, syphilis during pregnancy can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, prematurity, low birth weight, hydrops fetalis, or infant death shortly after birth. Infected infants may also suffer from snuffles (copious nasal secretions), pneumonia, or various other conditions at birth, or within the first four to eight weeks of life. Untreated infants can develop related conditions after two years of age.

Testing plays a vital role in the effort to combat congenital syphilis. Recommendations for STD testing in pregnant women are as follows:

  • First/Initial Prenatal Visit: Screen for Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, Syphilis, HBV, HCV, and HIV infection (unless the patient is already confirmed to have HIV infection).
  • Early Third Trimester (between 28-32 weeks gestation) Regardless of Risk Factors: Screen for Syphilis and HIV. If a person is already known to be HIV positive, the person does not need to be rescreened for HIV infection.
  • Labor and Delivery: Test all pregnant women at the time of labor and delivery for syphilis, HIV infection (Persons already known to be HIV positive do not need to be rescreened for HIV infection), and HBV (if no prior HBV testing), or the patient has signs and symptoms of hepatitis.

Learn more about congenital syphilis detection and prevention

Learn more about prenatal STD testing

For more information on the causes of prenatal infection, visit:

What Causes Prenatal Infections?

Prenatal infections are commonly caused by bacteria, viruses, parasites or other microorganisms that enter the body through the mother's vagina or cervix. While these infections can occur at any time during pregnancy, many of them are more likely to happen early on.

Signs of Prenatal Infection

Signs of prenatal infection that can be detected during pregnancy include:

  • Decreased or no fetal movement after your 20th week
  • Frenzied fetal movement
  • Mother experiencing unexplained fever

The free Count the Kicks app provides a simple way to monitor your baby's well-being by helping expectant parents track their baby's movement so they can notice significant changes and contact their healthcare provider if needed.

Once born, children should be monitored for changes in sounds, breathing, skin appearance, eating or sleeping habits, temperature or behavior, as these may indicate the presence of infection.

If you or your child experience any of these symptoms, contact your healthcare provider for immediate assistance.

How Can Prenatal Infections Be Prevented?

  • Get screened for infections
  • Stay up-to-date on vaccinations
  • Practice good hygiene
  • Practice good prenatal care 
  • Maintain a healthy, nutritious diet

A vital step in protecting against prenatal infections is maternal immunization. It is important that women stay up-to-date on immunizations before getting pregnant, as some immunizations are inadvisable during pregnancy.

During pregnancy, it is recommended that mothers take maternal flu vaccines to prevent serious infections such as influenza. This simple vaccine can save the life of a newborn baby. After pregnancy, the mother has to take postpartum vaccines to prevent getting infected by vaccine-preventable illnesses. This in turn also protects the baby from the same infections.

Learn more about vaccine safety for moms-to-be

Learn more about preventing infections before and during pregnancy

Additional Sources