Infectious Disease And Pregnancy: An Overview

Including COVID-19, Zika Virus, Influenza, and other Infectious Diseases

Your safety is of our utmost concern.  We at Fertility Associates of Memphis (FAM) want to ensure that all of our patients and employees stay healthy.  This overview is designed to be a resource for you and to address concerns regarding the risks of infectious diseases as they relate to pregnancy.

All pregnancy introduces serious health risks, including significant injury or even death, to the mother and child. Underlying health problems present prior to pregnancy, such as diabetes or hypertension, increase the likelihood of such risks once pregnancy is achieved. Therefore, for all women, the safest course of action would be to never pursue pregnancy. However, as pregnancy is a desired state for many, the risks of pregnancy are routinely accepted by women wishing to carry and deliver a child.

The world in which we all exist is home to many forms of bacteria and viruses that can cause significant injury or even death to human beings. A recent high profile example of this fact is the impact of COVID-19 on the world’s population, infecting millions and killing hundreds of thousands.

In addition to the risks of such infectious diseases on the health of all people, pregnant women have an elevated likelihood for serious injury or death. The state of pregnancy results in changes in the immune system (the part of your body that fights infections) that can actually worsen the outcome of some infectious diseases such as SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) or Influenza (the flu), both of which are coronaviruses like COVID-19. The full effect of COVID-19 on pregnancy is not known at the present time. Therefore, COVID-19 may or may not be more likely to infect pregnant women and may or may not be more severe in pregnancy. Additionally, it is unclear if COVID-19 can be transmitted to the developing baby during pregnancy or may affect the baby in other ways (i.e., through a high fever).

 

Therefore, pregnant women are considered an at-risk population for COVID-19 and other serious infectious diseases. For this reason, the safest way for women to proceed when there is a possibility for exposure to any serious infectious disease (including COVID-19, Influenza, or Zika virus) is to avoid pregnancy until this risk of exposure no longer exists.

 

The following is a short explanation of various common infectious diseases that pregnant women may be exposed to and infected by during pregnancy.

  • COVID-19

COVID-19 is caused by a virus that is highly contagious and can result in serious injury or death. The full effect of COVID-19 on pregnancy is not known at the present time. Therefore, COVID-19 may or may not be more severe in pregnancy. Additionally, it is unclear if COVID-19 can be transmitted to the developing baby during pregnancy.  However, if a pregnant woman contracts COVID-19 and begins to have serious health problems, such as difficulty breathing, this clearly introduces stress on the pregnancy and increases the chances of a poor outcome, including serious injury or death to mother or child. Therefore, attempting pregnancy in the setting of COVID-19 documented to be present in the general population introduces risk. For this reason, the safest way for women to proceed when there is a possibility for exposure to COVID-19 is to avoid pregnancy until this risk of exposure no longer exists.

Our professional society, ASRM (American Society for Reproductive Medicine) has formally recommended that women not initiate new fertility treatments including:

  • Elective Surgery
  • IUI (Intrauterine Insemination)
  • IVF (In Vitro Fertilization)
  • FET (Frozen Embryo Transfer)

Until the national response to COVID-19 has been halted, there is a chance that any health care facility, including our clinic or laboratory, could be shut down secondary to COVID-19 exposure. This could result in the canceling of any fertility treatment cycle at any point in the cycle, including abandoning growing embryos before they are frozen.

Our office (Fertility Associates of Memphis) is located within a large medical park (Baptist Memorial Hospital) campus. This hospital is documented to have a significant number of COVID-19 positive patients that are actively being treated on site. Furthermore, there have been individuals in this building (80 Humphreys Center) who have later tested positive for COVID-19.

Therefore, moving forward with evaluation and treatment in this building and at this center will almost certainly increase the risk of your personal exposure to COVID-19.

All women considering pregnancy are encouraged to explore the CDC website and follow their recommendations in regards to COVID-19: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus.

  • Zika Virus

The Zika virus is a virus that has existed for decades in certain areas of the world, such as the Philippines. The virus is transmitted by mosquitos. Men who have been infected with the virus also can pass the virus to their partner through sex.  In most people who are infected by the Zika virus, the symptoms are mild and often aren’t even noticed. However, in pregnant women who are infected by the Zika virus, the baby growing inside the mother can develop severe birth defects including damage to the brain. In recent years, the virus has spread to parts of North and South America. There have even been cases of Zika virus documented in parts of the United States including Florida and Texas. The CDC (Center for Disease Control) has developed travel advisories for women or their partners who have traveled to areas affected by Zika virus. These recommendations are commonly updated. All women considering pregnancy are encouraged to explore the CDC website and follow their recommendations in regards to minimizing Zika virus: https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/page/zika-information

 

  • Influenza

Influenza (the flu) is a common virus, often a coronavirus like COVID-19. Some individuals who are infected with influenza will have severe health problems including serious injury or death.  Pregnant women are more likely to have severe health problems when infected with influenza compared to non-pregnant women. The flu shot is known to reduce the chances of having serious complications associated with the flu. For this reasons, all pregnant women and women considering pregnancy are strongly encouraged to obtain a flu shot every year.

  • Hepatitis B and C, Syphilis, Varicella and others

Hepatitis B and C, syphilis and varicella (chickenpox) are examples of infections that have serious health complications, especially in pregnancy. Other infections that may cause serious health problems in pregnancy are measles, mumps, and rubella. For this reason, we test our patients for these diseases and/or immunity to these diseases; and all women considering pregnancy are strongly encouraged to obtain the following vaccination shots prior to attempting pregnancy if not already immune: TDAP, MMR, Varicella.