Maternal Infection and Pregnancy

Nationwide Cerebral Palsy Resource Network

A complication that can unexpectedly arise during pregnancy is a maternal infection, of which there are several forms and varying degrees of severity. It is important to understand that during your pregnancy, your immune system is weakened due to the fact that your body is supporting the growth and development of your baby. In other words, your body undergoes a self-programmed weakening of the immune system, which is necessary to support a healthy and successful pregnancy.

If you are exposed to various types of infections, you may have a greater chance of becoming ill by virtue of the pregnancy itself. When this occurs, it is incumbent upon your medical specialist to act immediately to protect your health and that of your baby. However, doctors can and sometimes do make mistakes, which may result in life threatening injuries. If this happened to you, it is important to know that you are not alone, and that you have legal rights. Call Stern Law, PLLC at (800)462-5772 for a free evaluation of your case.

Congenital infections

Certain types of infections, including those with viral and bacterial origins, may be passed in utero, infecting both you and your unborn baby. If not treated, the following infections can lead to problems in fetal development and even death:

  • Toxoplasmosis – This infectious disease is caused by a parasite known as Toxoplasma gondii. Although most individuals do not experience any symptoms, the disease can be very serious, and even fatal, in pregnant women and others with weakened immune systems.
  • Varicella zoster virus – This is the virus that causes chicken pox and shingles
  • Measles
  • Mumps
  • Rubella
  • Epstein-Barr virus
  • Mononucleosis
  • Encephalitis
  • Meningitis
  • Cytomegalovirus, or CMV – This infection can be passed to your child during delivery
  • Human parvovirus
  • Hepatitis
  • Influenza
  • Lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus – This rodent-borne viral infectious disease presents itself as a brain infection, often mimicking meningitis and encephalitis.
  • West Nile virus and other types of arboviruses

Perinatal infections

The following types of infections typically pose the greatest risk of transmission to a child during labor and delivery, although some may affect a child while in utero:

  • Herpes simplex virus (HSV)
  • HIV
  • AIDS
  • Syphilis – A child may be infected with this disease during pregnancy
  • Chlamydia
  • Gonorrhea
  • Group B Streptococci

How are maternal infections diagnosed?

If doctors suspect infection in either a pregnant woman or her child (whether in utero or at birth), they will likely conduct a number of tests to verify a diagnosis of the condition, such as:

  • Maternal blood tests – A number of blood tests performed on a pregnant woman can help determine the type of maternal infection present.
  • Percutaneous blood draws – This is a blood test of a fetus while in the womb for the purpose of diagnosing certain fetal conditions.
  • Spinal tap (also known as lumbar puncture) – This diagnostic procedure is able to identify certain types of infections found in fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord.
  • Electroencephalograph – This is a test that measures brain waves in the temporal lobes that is typically performed should infectious conditions of the brain be suspected.
  • Ultrasound – There are a variety of difficult types of ultrasounds – including specialized or targeted ultrasounds – that are able to produce images of a child in utero and target a suspected issue, such as abnormal fetal development, infection and other conditions.
  • Amniocentesis – This is a procedure where a syringe is inserted into the uterus in order to extract a sample of the amniotic fluid that surrounds and protects a growing fetus. This procedure is typically performed after the 15th week of pregnancy, which is able to diagnose certain fetal infections and other serious conditions.
  • Cordocentesis – This is a highly specialized procedure, also referred to as percutaneous umbilical blood sampling, that involves the extraction and testing of blood from the umbilical cord. This test is usually performed after the 18th week of pregnancy and is able to identify certain types of infections that can affect a fetus.

What is the treatment for maternal/fetal infections?

Overall, the type of treatment depends upon the nature and severity of the underlying infection. The following are a list of the most common forms of treatment for a number of different infections:

  • Antibiotics
  • Anti-viral medications
  • Hospitalization
  • Monitoring
  • Admission of an infant to the neonatal intensive care unit, or NICU
  • Rest
  • Nutritional support, including plenty of fluids (including IV fluids when necessary)
  • Corticosteroids to reduce brain swelling and inflammation, especially with brain infections
  • Anticonvulsant medications should you suffer from seizures related to certain types of brain infections

What are the main types of complications associated with maternal infections?

There are a number of complications associated with maternal infections that arise during pregnancy, labor and delivery, such as:

  • Pre-term labor
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy – This is a condition where an unborn child’s brain does not receive enough oxygen and blood, which can be caused by certain types of infections.
  • Developmental delay – A lack of oxygen, which can occur more frequently in a pregnancy where infection is present, may cause delays in a child’s motor, physical and mental development.
  • Seizure disorders – When certain infections arise, there is a greater chance that a child’s oxygen supply may become compromised during labor and delivery. As a result, certain seizure disorders may arise due to the lack of oxygen and other complications associated therewith.
  • Mental retardation – Certain forms of infections may cause brain damage, leading to mental retardation and other serious injuries.

Maternal/fetal infection and medical malpractice

The complications associated with a pregnancy involving multiples are caused by a multitude of different factors; however, many involve the following cases of medical negligence (whether caused by a doula, midwife, nurse, doctor, obstetrics specialist, surgeon, hospital or medical staff):

  • Failure to diagnose a maternal infection
  • Faulty or improperly used fetal monitoring equipment to monitor a mother/child affected by infection
  • Failure to diagnose and treat pregnancy, labor and delivery complications associated with maternal infections
  • Failure to respond to the signs and symptoms of maternal/fetal infection
  • Failure to enlist the help of obstetric specialists to assist a woman/her child facing serious infection
  • Failure to conduct certain diagnostic tests that would have readily demonstrated a fetal health condition or abnormality
  • Improperly trained doctors and staff to deal with birth complications
  • Not having enough doctors and/or staff to treat a woman with a maternal infection
  • Failure to move forward with a vaginal delivery
  • Delayed decision to perform a Cesarean section necessary to quickly deliver a child suffering from infection
  • Failure to monitor for and/or detect fetal distress

When facing otherwise preventable medical conditions and injuries caused by negligent medical professionals, families can be overwhelmed by the legal system. Our firm has been ably handling complex birth injury cases for more than 30 years, and we would be proud to provide your family with the same assistance. Please call Stern Law, PLLC today at (800)462-5772 for a free case evaluation.