STDs in Pregnancy - Overview

STDs and Pregnancy

Sexually transmitted diseases, most frequently referred to as STDs, are infections which are caught and spread by having oral, anal or vaginal sex with an infected person.  STDs are serious and require proper diagnosis and treatment, no matter whether a woman is pregnant or not.  However, if a woman is pregnant, she's not the only one at risk.  Both mother and baby become subjected to diseases which are harmful and sometimes deadly.  Some, such as HIV/AIDS cannot be cured and are often responsible for loss of life.  Today, most health care providers screen for some STDs on the first prenatal visit; however if there is an ongoing sexual relationship with an infected person, subsequent testing should be done and the disease treated.  If a woman knows she is infected, or knows her partner is infected, she should tell her health care provider immediately.  Quick diagnosis and treatment is the most effective way to protect both mother and child.

Center For Disease Control Numbers

Some STDs, such as genital herpes and bacterial vaginosis, are very common in pregnant women while others such as HIV and syphilis are found less often.  The Center for Disease Control in the United States has provided the following list of STDs and the number of pregnant women infected by them:

Bacterial vaginosis                              1,080,000

Herpes simplex virus 2                           880,000

Chlamydia                                              100,000

Trichomoniasis                                        124,000

Gonorrhea                                               13,200

Hepatitis B                                               16,000

HIV                                                            6,400

Syphilis                                                      1,000

The impact of STDs on pregnant women is the same as it is for those who are not pregnant.  They can be the cause of cervical and other cancers, chronic hepatitis, PID, infertility and other complications.  The fact that many STDs are silent, not having signs or symptoms, presents a hidden and ominous danger.

Can They Be Passed To The Baby?

Some STDS can be passed from mother to baby at any stage of pregnancy - before, during or after the birth.  Some, like syphilis, cross the placenta and infect the unborn baby while in utero.  Others, such as gonorrhea, chlamydia, hepatitis B and genital herpes can potentially be transmitted to the baby in the birth canal.  HIV, while having the potential to cross the placenta and infect while in the uterus and during the birthing process, also can infect a baby through breastfeeding.  Other effects of STDs on pregnant women include early onset of labor, premature rupture of the uterus membranes prior to birth as well as uterine infection after delivering the baby.

Effects of STDs on Unborn Babies

The baby is adversely affected by STDs in numerous ways, among them, stillbirth, low birth weight (a baby weighing less than five pounds), eye infections, pneumonia, infections in the blood, neurological damage, blindness, deafness, meningitis, liver disease and many other life threatening and debilitating diseases.  Most of these terrible consequences can be prevented if the mother is screened early for STDs and close to delivery time if necessary, as well as if she is receiving regular prenatal care.  Many other problems can be treated effectively at birth if an infection is found.

Early screening and testing creates the opportunity for women who are pregnant to be treated effectively for STDs and in so doing, they reduce the risk of disease in their newborns.

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