Congratulations – you’re pregnant! Now the real work begins. Your first trimester of pregnancy is a delicate and crucial time for your own health and your baby’s. The easiest thing you can do is to pay special attention to those “healthy habits” you’ve been practicing all along: avoid people with symptoms of cold or flu, wash your hands frequently, and maintain a healthy diet (your doctor can give you information on diet and exercise best suited for you). These habits will help you avoid common, communicable infections during pregnancy that your body may be less able to combat.
In addition to maintaining these simple health habits, you should know about the five types of communicable diseases during pregnancy that many doctors cite as most dangerous to pregnant women. They are often shortened to the acronym TORCH: Toxoplasmosis, Others, Rubella, CMV, and Herpes. Because these diseases are especially dangerous to you and your unborn baby during the first trimester of pregnancy, you should take steps to identify or prevent them immediately after learning that you are pregnant.
Toxoplasmosis is transmitted through contact with infected cat feces. If you own a cat, you should have a blood test to check if your body has developed Toxoplasmosis-fighting antibodies, particularly if you adopted your cat recently. Ask your spouse or partner to handle the kitty litter during your pregnancy, and if you simply must do it yourself, be sure to always wash your hands thoroughly after cleaning the litter box.
Rubella has become increasingly rare in the United States because most people are vaccinated for the disease during childhood; however, you should have a blood test to determine your immunity status and avoid anyone known to have Rubella.
Cytomegalovirus (CMV) is an extremely common type of herpes family of viruses: roughly 1 in every 100 women has CMV. Because it is possible to have CMV without realizing it, you should have a blood test, particularly if you’ve received organ transplants or blood transfusions before your pregnancy. To help prevent CMV during pregnancy, avoid contact with people who’ve been exposed to CMV – even those with past infections can spread the virus to others – and if you work with children, remember to wash your hands regularly.
Some of the other infections to be aware of include Varicella (chicken pox), Fifth Disease, and HIV. You are probably immune to further chicken pox infections if you’ve had it as a child; if you haven’t had it, carefully avoid anyone with symptoms. Fifth disease (erythema infectiosum) is a common illness usually spread by respiratory droplets in the air. HIV infection, by far the most deadly of the infectious viruses, is more likely to result in perinatal transmission. With proper medical therapy and a Cesarean section, the risk of transmission to the baby can be reduced to as low 2%.
Remember: prevention is the best medicine. If you take the necessary steps to protect yourself and your unborn baby during your first trimester of pregnancy, the payoffs will be well worth it.
If you have any pregnancy or birthing questions, feel free to email me.
I’m looking forward to helping you to have a healthy, safe pregnancy and childbirth!
Mark Zakowski, M.D.
The Safe Baby System