Cerebral Palsy is a collection of neurological conditions that are all caused by damage to a baby’s developing brain through an injury sustained before, during, or immediately after birth. When one thinks of an “injury,” one might naturally picture some physical act inflicted upon the child and/or the child’s mother: A blow from a fist, too much pressure applied with forceps, and/or too strong of a pull from a doctor, for example. While these “injuries” can certainly cause damage to the fetus’s brain – and, therefore, lead to the development of Cerebral Palsy – an “injury” might also be inflicted through an untreated infection.
Top Infections in Expectant Mothers That Can Lead to Cerebral Palsy
There are a number of infections which, if left untreated, can jeopardize not only the mother’s health but also the health and wellbeing of the fetus. For this reason, it is crucial that pregnant women make and keep regular appointments with their doctors throughout their pregnancies. The sooner an infection can be detected in the mother and treated, the better the outcome for the child. Some of the most concerning infections include:
- Toxoplasmosis: This disease comes about after a person is infected with the parasite Toxoplasma gondi. This parasite can be obtained by eating contaminated meat or through the feces of a cat that is carrying the parasite (i.e., cleaning an infected cat’s litterbox and then wiping one’s face or eating food without first washing one’s hands).
- Rubella: Also known as the German measles, this viral infection can cause a low fever and sore throat. However, the condition is probably best known for the red rash that begins on the face and then spreads to the remainder of the body. Once infected, the virus will usually resolve itself within a matter of days (or, in some cases, weeks). A vaccine is available to protect against rubella.
- Chickenpox: Older adults may remember contracting chickenpox as children. This viral infection is caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV) and is very contagious. Its hallmark symptom are the red blisters that appear on the patient’s body. Although a vaccine is now available and usually given to children in infancy, even vaccinated children can still develop chickenpox (albeit the symptoms will generally be less severe if the patient has been vaccinated).
- Cytomegalovirus: This viral infection is transmitted from person to person through contact with an infected person’s bodily fluids such as urine, blood, and saliva. Once infected, the virus remains within the person. An otherwise healthy person infected with cytomegalovirus may not exhibit any symptoms as a healthy person’s immune system is usually able to keep the virus in check.
- Herpes: This is another viral infection that can be transmitted from person to person via sexual intercourse. The virus can also be transferred from an infected mother to her child through the birthing process.
Expectant mothers who develop any of the signs or symptoms of these or other infections should consult with their doctors right away. Even though many of these infections are ones that would not cause a normal, healthy adult any serious concern, they can cause serious and permanent damage to the brain of a fetus and/or newborn. This damage can occur even if the mother is only showing minor signs of an infection.
How Infections in Fetuses and Newborns Lead to Cerebral Palsy
Because Cerebral Palsy develops as the result of an injury to the brain, infections such as those listed above that can impact the developing brain of the fetus may cause the child to develop Cerebral Palsy later in life. It is critical, therefore, for expectant mothers to be proactive about their health and visit with their doctor at the first sign.