Dr. MJ Bazos MD,
Respiratory Infections During Pregnancy
What is a viral respiratory
A viral respiratory infection is a contagious
illness that can affect your respiratory tract (breathing) and cause other
symptoms. The flu and the common cold are examples of viral respiratory
infections. Other examples of respiratory viruses are:
- Chickenpox (varicella)
- Fifth disease
- Cytomegalovirus (say: "si-to-meg-ah-low-vi-russ")
- Rubella (also called German measles)
What if I'm exposed
to a viral respiratory infection when I'm
Pregnant women can be exposed to people with
viral infections at work and at home. The infected person is usually a child.
Most of the time, the woman doesn't get infected. Even if she does, most viruses
won't hurt her baby. However, some viruses can cause miscarriage or birth
defects in the baby.
If you're exposed to chickenpox, fifth disease,
cytomegalovirus or rubella while you're pregnant, you should tell your doctor
right away. Your doctor will want to know how much contact you've had with the
Here are some questions your doctor may ask you:
- Did you hold or kiss the child?
- How long were you in contact with the child?
- When did the child get sick?
- Did a doctor diagnose the child's illness? Were
any tests done?
What should I do if
I'm exposed to chickenpox?
Chickenpox is caused by the varicella virus and
is highly contagious. It can be serious during pregnancy. Sometimes, chickenpox
can cause birth defects. If you've had chickenpox in the past, then you can't
get it again and your baby will be fine. If you didn't have chickenpox or if
you're not sure, you should see your doctor right away. Your doctor will test
your blood to see if you're immune.
Many people who don't remember having chickenpox
are immune anyway. If your blood test shows that you're not immune, you can take
medicines to make your illness less severe and possibly help protect your baby
What should I do if I'm exposed to
Fifth disease is common in children. Half of all
adults are susceptible to fifth disease and can catch it from children.
Children with fifth disease can get a rash on
their body. They may have red cheeks that look like they've been slapped. Adults
who get fifth disease don't usually have the "slapped cheek" rash. They may have
Fifth disease doesn't cause birth defects, but
it can cause anemia (low blood count) in your baby. If the anemia is bad, the
baby could die. The anemia might get better by itself, or your baby might need
to have a blood transfusion (while the baby is still inside your uterus).
If you get fifth disease early in your
pregnancy, you could have a miscarriage. If you're exposed to fifth disease,
call your doctor. Your doctor may have you take a blood test to see if you're
immune. You may also need an ultrasound exam to see if the baby has been
What if I'm exposed to
Cytomegalovirus usually doesn't cause any
symptoms, so you won't know if you have it. It's the most common infection that
can be passed from the mother to the baby. Cytomegalovirus affects 1 of every
100 pregnant women. It can cause birth defects.
It's important to prevent cytomegalovirus
because there's no way to treat it. Women who work in day care centers and in a
health care setting have the highest risk of getting infected. Pregnant women
with these jobs should wash their hands after handling diapers and avoid
nuzzling the babies. If you think you've been exposed to a person who has
cytomegalovirus, you should see your doctor right away.
What if I'm exposed to rubella
Today, rubella is rare. Since 1969, almost all
children have had the rubella vaccine. Rubella used to be a common cause of
birth defects. At the first prenatal visit, all pregnant women should be tested
to see if they're immune to rubella. Women who are not immune to rubella should
get the vaccine after the baby is born. It's even better to be tested before you
get pregnant. That way, you can get the vaccine if you need it. If you're
exposed to rubella when you're pregnant, you can have blood tests to be sure
What if I'm exposed to
Influenza hardly ever causes birth defects. It
can be more serious for you if you get the flu while you're pregnant. You might
get very sick. If you'll be pregnant during the flu season (from October through
March), you should get a flu shot in the fall.
What about other viral
Most other respiratory viruses (such as regular
measles, mumps, roseola, mononucleosis ["mono"] and bronchiolitis) don't seem to
increase the normal risk for birth defects. In normal pregnancies, the risk of
serious birth defects is only 2% to 3%.