When a pregnant woman develops an infection, it can put the health of both the mother and the child at risk. Physicians administering prenatal care and examinations should take care to treat infections quickly and warn mothers of the risks that infections can pose during pregnancy. Mothers should take special precautions while pregnant to avoid contracting infections that may harm the infant. If mothers are not warned of these dangers, or are not treated for existing infections and infants are born with birth injuries, it may be considered malpractice.
Types of Maternal Infections
Certain illnesses and infections are known to cause birth injuries if untreated. These infections include:
- Urinary tract infection
- Chicken Pox
- Strep throat
- Hepatitis B
Conditions Caused by Maternal Infections
In some cases, a maternal infection may be passed to an infant. The likelihood of passing the infection increases as the pregnancy goes on, with the chances of the infection being passed during the first trimester being low and the chances of the infection being passed on during the third trimester being high. In other cases, a maternal infection can cause other conditions to develop that may affect the child’s life or cause death.
Toxoplasmosis is the most common congenital infection in the world. This infection is caused by contracting the parasite Toxoplasma gandii from undercooked meat, contaminated vegetables, or exposure to animal feces-particularly feline feces. This parasite has been found to cause deafness, cognitive impairments, CNS abnormalities, and hepatosplenomegaly.
Cytomegalovirus, or CMV, is a virus that is contracted through exposure to the fluids and tissue of an infected person. This is the most common congenital infection found in the United States. Infants that are exposed to CMV while in the womb may develop conjugated hyperbilirubinemia, deafness, thrombocytopenia, and CNS abnormalities.
Chicken Pox Effects
Chicken pox cases have gone down dramatically since children started being routinely immunized against the varicella virus beginning in 1995. However, about one in 2000 women contracts the virus while pregnant. Being exposed to chicken pox while in the womb can cause children to develop eye abnormalities, skin conditions, limb hypoplasia, cognitive impairments, and CNS abnormalities.
Rubella immunizations have been routine since 1969, so contraction of the virus that causes the disease while pregnant is rare. However, occasional outbreaks do occur. When exposed to the virus in the womb, infants may be born with heart defects, deafness, eye problems, cognitive impairments, and conditions that affect normal growth.
Preventing Maternal Infections
Many maternal infections can be prevented by receiving proper vaccinations against the viruses that cause the infections prior to pregnancy. Infections such as toxoplasmosis can be prevented by avoiding raw or undercooked meats and activities such as cleaning kitty litter that may expose the mother to animal feces. Pregnant women can also avoid contact with infected individuals as much as possible. If an infection is known or suspected, pregnant women can help to avoid birth injuries by seeking advice from the physician that is administering prenatal care.
Treating Maternal Infections
Maternal infections may be treated with antibiotics or vaccinations, depending on the specific cause of infection. Fetal monitoring will often be used to keep track of the fetal development and diagnose any developmental abnormalities. If necessary, monitoring and antibiotics may continue after birth.
In some cases in which maternal infections have caused birth injuries, physicians could have prevented the injuries by diagnosing the condition earlier and administering treatment. To determine whether the case can be considered malpractice, birth injury attorneys must consider a number of factors. Medical experts may also be called in to review medical records and evaluate whether the steps that were taken were what a competent physician would have done in the same scenario.
Factors pertaining to a case that may indicate malpractice include:
- Diagnosis and treatment starting long after symptomatic indications began
- Improper interpretation of antepartum testing
- Evidence of fetal distress that was not addressed in a timely manner
- Records showing that brain injuries or brain injury causes were present and undiagnosed prior to birth
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