common in society than rubella (German measles). It is suggested that 80% of young children normally carry this virus in their faeces, saliva and urine, yet show no symptoms or side effects from it. A pregnant woman should therefore exercise very careful hygiene habits in all situations of toileting young children, including her own elder children, as well as in places like childcare centres and preschools.
Parvovirus B-19, Fifth’s Disease or Slapped-Cheek Virus, is an endemic virus which is mainly present in autumn and winter. It is a mild airborne infection that spreads easily through classrooms, since the kids are contagious before symptoms appear. In rare cases, infection in the pregnant woman can interfere with the production of the baby’s red blood cells and can cause early miscarriage and stillbirth.
Coxsackievirus belongs to a large family called Enteroviruses, named for their tendency to thrive in the human intestine. They are passed on by way of human faeces. If the mother is infected in the first trimester, birth defects can occur. Later infection increases the risk that the baby will develop conditions as diverse as schizophrenia and diabetes. One should make sure that all children and adults around you use good hand washing techniques – always before eating, and especially after toileting and nappy changing.
Group B Streptococcus (GBS)
Group B streptococcus should not be con-fused with Group A streptococcus which causes strep throat. The GBS bacteria is commonly found in the rectum, vagina or bladder of women. It is estimated that between 15 - 40% of women carry GBS at some point during pregnancy. GBS is the number one cause of life threatening infections in newborn babies, being even more common than the other illnesses for which pregnant women are often screened, such as rubella, Down's Syndrome and spina bifida.
Most often, GBS spreads to the baby during labour, either by the bacteria travelling upward into the uterus from the mother's vagina, or as the infant passes through the birth canal. Infection of the baby only occurs in 1 - 2% of babies born to mothers with the bacteria.
Women at highest risk are those with a history of bladder or kidney infections; those where labour is premature; where there is premature rupture of the membranes; when there is prolonged
rupture of membranes (>12 hours); or where the mother has a fever before or during labour.
Some medicos recommend testing of all women at around 35 - 37 weeks. Others test only when there is a previous history of the infection or in those suspected of having it. Where found, the mother is treated with intravenous antibiotics during labour. Where unknown or unsuccessfully treated, early infections (those which occur between birth and the seventh day of the baby’s life, and which are mainly passed on by the mother) can cause inflammation of the baby's lungs, spinal cord or brain. A very small percentage may die from the infection. Later infection (those which occur after the first 7 days of life, and which are mainly passed on from sources other than the mother) has the main risk of meningitis, which causes long term problems associated with the baby's nervous system.
Diabetes mellitus – that is, abnormal blood sugar levels caused by insufficient insulin production in the pancreas – can be a serious complication for the pregnant woman and her child. The known risks of diabetes to the mother during pregnancy include premature labour; increased urinary tract infections; elevated blood pressure; and the possibility of delivery by caesarean section. The risks to the infant include being extraordinarily large and fat (foetal macrosomia) ; birth trauma such as shoulder dystocia; increased risk of congenital abnormality; increased risk of neural tube defects; low blood sugar at birth; or prolonged jaundice. Long term implications are an increased risk of diabetes; adolescent obesity; low blood calcium; and respiratory distress syndrome.
Due to the normally elevated hormone levels in the second and third trimesters, along with the growth demands of the foetus, a pregnant woman's need for insulin increase by two to 3 times that of normal. Most women’s bodies can happily adjust to this and no (obvious) abnormali-ties occur. However, some cannot provide the insulin required and their blood sugar levels become dangerous. By identifying those with decreased insulin receptivity (also called “pre-diabetes”), a link was assumed between pregnancy, diabetes and birthing complications, particularly for large babies. This then resulted in glucose tolerance testing becoming a routine pregnancy procedure, with any abnormal result in mothers without previously diagnosed diabetes being labelled as gestational diabetes.