You may be aware that certain viral and bacterial infections can be passed from the mother to the fetus during pregnancy, delivery or breastfeeding. This is why screening for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) is routine for all mothers during pregnancy. Expectant mothers should also be aware that they could contract STIs while pregnant.
What effect can your STI have on your fetus and why are STIs especially concerning for new mothers and their health care providers?
Many common STIs can have a variety of negative effects on the fetus or the newborn if they are transmitted in utero or during delivery:
Gonorrhea: A common bacterial STI, which can be effectively treated with antibiotics, gonorrhea can cause premature birth, stillbirth and eye infections in the fetus or newborn.
Chlamydia: Another common bacterial STI, Chlamydia can cause pneumonia, eye infections and blindness in newborns if transferred to the fetus during delivery.
Syphilis: Syphilis is curable with antibiotics if the mother is diagnosed. If it remains untreated, it can cause stillbirth or serious developmental delays and physical abnormalities, particularly dental and facial deformities in the fetus.
Human Papilloma Virus (HPV): This common STI is very rarely transmitted to the fetus during delivery. It can, in rare cases, cause warts to form in the newborn’s throat, which must be dealt with surgically.
Herpes: If the herpes virus is transmitted to the fetus during delivery, it can cause the baby to develop skin lesions, problems with internal organs (particularly the liver), seizures and encephalitis (swelling of the brain). In some cases, symptoms may not become apparent until the baby is over two years old.
Hepatitis B: Approximately 90% of babies born to mothers with Hepatitis B will contract the disease, unless they receive treatment within a few hours of birth. Babies who contract Hepatitis B will have problems with their liver, including scarring of the liver and liver cancer.
Since your newborn’s immune system is still developing, it can be particularly damaging if he or she contracts an STI. Viral infections such as herpes and hepatitis B cannot be cured and your baby will be a carrier of the virus for life. Even bacterial infections, which can be cured if the mother is diagnosed during pregnancy, can cause serious deformities and health problems in newborns if left untreated.
If your healthcare provider failed to recommend that you be screened for STIs either prior to or during your pregnancy, or failed to properly diagnose or treat your STI, and your fetus suffered a birth defect or contracted a serious virus as a result, you may have a legal claim for your damages.