Perinatal infection

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]

Background

A perinatal infection is an infection caused by bacteria, viruses or less common parasites that is passed from a mother to her baby during pregnancy or childbirth.

The embryo and fetus have no immune function or an immature immune function. They depend on the immune function and freedom from infection in the mother. Several infectious agents are capable of crossing the placenta and causing infection (congential infection) in the embryo or fetus. Often microorganisms that produce minor illness in the mother are very dangerous for the developing embryo or fetus. This can result in spontaneous abortion or major developmental disorders. For many infections, the baby is more at risk at particular stages of pregnancy. Problems related to congenital infection are not always directly noticeable.

The infant can also become infected from the vagina of the mother during birth. Some infectious agents may be transmitted to the embryo or fetus in the uterus, during birth or even shortly after birth. The distinction is important because when transmission is primarily during or after birth, intervention directly after birth may prevent infections in the infant.

During childbirth, the infant is exposed to maternal blood and body fluids without the placental barrier intervening and to the maternal genital tract. Because of this, microorganism transmitted by blood (Hepatitis B, HIV), organisms associated with sexually transmitted disease (Neisseria gonorrhoeae and Chlamydia trachomatis), and normal flora of the genito-urinary tract are among those commonly seen in infection of the newborn.


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