Maternal Infections and Birth Injuries
If your baby suffered a birth injury because of maternal infections during pregnancy, it is not your fault. Prenatal care providers have a legal duty to prevent maternal infections or minimize their effects through education, screening, and treatment. If your baby suffered a birth injury due to a maternal infection during pregnancy, call us immediately at 877-374-1417 for a free case evaluation.
Pregnant women and their babies are more vulnerable to infections than the general population. Contracting an infection that harms your baby is one of the most traumatic outcomes a mother can experience in a pregnancy, and parents often blame themselves.
Every qualified prenatal health care provider should be educated about maternal infections during pregnancy, and you should be able to rely on the expertise of your doctor or midwife to ensure a safe and healthy pregnancy. In many cases, the risk of fetal harm from maternal infections can be mitigated with proper prenatal care.
Health care providers must provide a reasonable standard of care by adhering to established medical guidelines. Our experienced birth injury lawyers are nationally recognized as pioneers in birth injury litigation who can identify the errors and omissions that led to your baby’s injuries. Contact us now to learn how you may be able to recover substantial compensation.
Common Maternal Infections During Pregnancy
Many infections that complicate pregnancy and childbirth outcomes are common in the general population but without causing severe symptoms or complications. During pregnancy, a woman’s immune system is naturally suppressed, increasing her vulnerability to infection. The most common maternal infections are described below.
Group B Streptococcus
Group B streptococcus is a type of bacteria that may be present in healthy adults’ urinary, digestive, and reproductive systems, and it generally does not cause problems. Approximately one of every four women carry it. This type of maternal infection during pregnancy can cause urinary tract infections and chorioamnionitis.
Whether or not group B strep causes symptoms in the mother, the bacteria may be passed to the child, especially if the infection occurs during late pregnancy. Prenatal care providers can and should test women for this bacteria between weeks 35 and 37 of pregnancy.
Women who test positive can receive intravenous antibiotics during labor to prevent infections in the newborn during the first week of life. This is most effective when given at least four hours before birth. If you have this maternal infection, your doctor may recommend coming to the hospital during an early stage of labor.
When doctors and midwives fail to detect and treat group B strep, the newborn may develop meningitis and could suffer the following long-term complications:
- Learning disabilities
Toxoplasmosis is a parasitic infection caused by the parasite Toxoplasma gondii. Anyone can contract toxoplasmosis by consuming contaminated, undercooked meat or eggs or exposure to cat feces. Insects such as flies that had contact with cat feces can also transmit toxoplasmosis to humans.
Maternal infection of toxoplasmosis during pregnancy can be passed to the fetus, resulting in complications that may not appear until years after birth, including the following:
- Inflammation behind the retina in the eyes, potentially leading to blindness
- A buildup of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain
- Mental retardation
- Motor and developmental delays
The risk of passing toxoplasmosis increases as pregnancy progresses. If detected early, toxoplasmosis can be treated using antiparasitic treatments before it causes harm. However, doctors and midwives do not routinely screen for it. The CDC has listed toxoplasmosis as one of five neglected parasitic infections in the United States and is working to increase public awareness.
Listeriosis is a food-borne illness caused by the pathogen L. monocytogenes. It is present in refrigerated, processed foods such as poultry, seafood, and dairy products made from unpasteurized milk. It can also be found in fruits and vegetables contaminated by the soil.
Pregnant women are ten times more likely to contract listeriosis than other healthy adults, and the risk is highest in pregnant Hispanic women. Symptoms may not emerge until up to two months after exposure, and some women do not experience symptoms.
Listeriosis can be passed to the baby whether or not you have symptoms. Babies born with listeriosis may develop serious blood and brain infections, resulting in lifelong problems, including the following:
- Intellectual disability
- Heart, brain, and kidney problems
Listeriosis can also complicate pregnancy and lead to tragic outcomes, including miscarriage, stillbirth, and preterm labor. Listeriosis is treatable, and every doctor or midwife should perform a blood test if you express concerns about food poisoning or present with symptoms of listeriosis, which may include the following:
- Muscle aches
- Gastrointestinal disturbances
- Stiff neck
- Loss of balance
German measles is also known as rubella. The United States declared it eradicated in 2004 due to routine vaccination, but rubella cases still occur, often due to international travel. A maternal German measles infection is dangerous for pregnant women and their growing fetuses, particularly during the first trimester.
When the mother becomes infected with German measles, she is at risk of miscarriage or stillbirth. It can also be passed to the baby in the womb. This is known as congenital rubella syndrome. It can result in the following birth defects:
- Defects of the heart
- Cerebral palsy
- Brain damage
- Intellectual disabilities
- Liver damage
- Spleen damage
- Low birth weight
- Skin rash
- Thyroid problems
- Hormone disorders
- Lung inflammation
Hepatitis B is a viral liver infection that typically resolves within a few weeks when contracted by healthy adults. An infected pregnant woman can pass the virus to her baby, and infected newborns have a 90 percent chance of developing a lifelong liver condition that ultimately leads to death from liver disease or cancer.
Doctors and midwives should perform testing for hepatitis B during every pregnancy. If you test positive, you can still have a healthy, uninfected baby, but it will require diligence by your prenatal care team. Your baby will need a hepatitis B vaccine and hepatitis B immune globulin within 12 hours of birth.
Your baby should receive a second vaccine between one and two months and a final vaccine at approximately six months. When your baby reaches nine months, your baby’s doctor should test your baby’s blood to confirm immunity.
Your doctor or midwife has a legal duty to inform you if you test positive for Hepatitis B and to advise how to protect your baby with the appropriate vaccination schedule.
Chickenpox is a contagious infection that causes an itchy, blister-like rash. The varicella-zoster virus causes it. Most cases of chickenpox occur during childhood without complications, and more than 90 percent of pregnant women are immune.
However, approximately one in 2,000 expecting mothers develop chickenpox, and it carries severe risks for the baby. Chickenpox during the first 20 weeks of pregnancy can cause congenital varicella syndrome, which causes severe birth defects, including the following:
- Muscle and bone defects
- Deformed limbs
- Small head size
- Intellectual disability
- Cerebral palsy
Pregnant women who contract chickenpox five days before birth or two days after have a risk of their babies becoming infected. Approximately 30 percent of newborns who are infected with chickenpox die.
If you have been exposed to anyone with chickenpox during pregnancy and you have never had chickenpox or the vaccine, your prenatal care provider can protect your baby by treating you with varicella-zoster immune globulin within 96 hours of your exposure to prevent chickenpox or reduce its severity.
Also known as rubeola, measles is a highly contagious virus that causes symptoms similar to the common cold, fever, and a raised rash. While it is not known to cause birth defects, it can cause pregnancy complications, including miscarriage, premature birth, and low birth weight.
Most people are immune to measles due to routine vaccination. The MMR vaccine is routinely given throughout childhood. Blood tests can be performed to determine if you have immunity. This vaccine is not recommended during pregnancy but is considered safe while breastfeeding.
If you have been exposed to measles during pregnancy and are not immune to it, your doctor should treat you with intravenous immunoglobulin medication within six days of your exposure to prevent measles or lessen its severity.
Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease that often presents without symptoms or with mild symptoms, but it can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth, and severe birth defects in babies who contract syphilis in the womb. When syphilis is contracted in utero, it is known as congenital syphilis.
Babies born with congenital syphilis may develop dangerous infections and lifelong complications, including the following:
- Bone deformities
- Severe anemia
- Skin rashes
- Enlarged spleen
- Enlarged liver
- Death shortly after birth
Some babies do not exhibit symptoms at birth but develop these problems later.
The CDC has reported a marked increase in cases of congenital syphilis in the United States and recommends testing at the first prenatal visit and during the third trimester if you live in an area where syphilis is common or have other risk factors.
It is your prenatal health care provider’s responsibility to know this and initiate testing. When detected, syphilis can be treated and cured in the mother and the fetus with penicillin. This can prevent the baby from being born with congenital syphilis.
However, a diligent health care provider should perform syphilis testing on newborns at birth to rule out congenital syphilis if the mother tests positive for syphilis at any time during pregnancy.
Urinary Tract Infections
Pregnant women are susceptible to urinary tract infections due to normal changes during pregnancy. Prenatal doctors and midwives should test for urinary tract infections beginning with the first prenatal visit.
The most common types of urinary tract infections are as follows:
- Asymptomatic bacteriuria – a bacterial infection of the urine without symptoms
- Acute cystitis – a bacterial infection of the urine with symptoms
- Pyelonephritis – an infection of the kidneys that may occur as a result of bacteria ascending to the kidneys from the bladder
Pyelonephritis is a dangerous infection that requires prompt inpatient treatment. Prenatal care providers may be able to prevent pyelonephritis infections during pregnancy by routinely performing urinalysis to screen for urinary tract infections rather than waiting for symptoms to present.
Pyelonephritis can lead to sepsis and acute kidney failure in the mother. It can also lead to premature birth.
Cytomegalovirus is a common virus that affects people of all ages, usually without causing symptoms or complications. However, an infected mother can pass the virus to her fetus. Babies born with this virus can develop lifelong complications, including the following:
- Small head size
- Problems with the liver, spleen, or lungs
- Intellectual disabilities
- Cerebral palsy
- Poor coordination
These conditions may be present at birth or develop later in childhood. Cytomegalovirus can be transmitted through nearly any bodily fluid, including saliva, blood, semen, urine, and breast milk. More than half of all adults carry it, and as many as a third of children are infected by age five.
Despite its commonality, Doctors do not routinely test for this maternal infection during pregnancy.
Parvovirus B19 is a common virus that often causes mild symptoms or no symptoms in healthy people. Approximately half of all adults in the United States have already contracted and developed immunity to it. Women contracting this maternal infection during pregnancy can pass it to the developing baby. This could cause the fetus to develop severe anemia, increasing the risk of a miscarriage.
Parvovirus B19 is most dangerous to the fetus during the first half of pregnancy. If you develop a “slapped cheek” rash or report to your prenatal care provider that you may have been exposed to someone with this virus, your provider should perform a blood test for this infection.
If you test positive, your doctor should prescribe additional prenatal monitoring and work to reduce your risk of miscarriage.
Genital herpes is a virus that causes sores, known as outbreaks, on the genitals. Pregnant women with genital herpes can pass the virus to their unborn babies during childbirth and, in rare cases, during pregnancy.
A baby contracting herpes in the womb may develop eye diseases, severe brain damage, and skin lesions.
In infants that contract herpes during childbirth, the virus can spread throughout the body. This can result in severe long-term complications, including the following:
- Herpes encephalitis, an infection of the brain
- Infection of the liver, lungs, or kidneys
- Blisters on the skin
- Proneness to bleeding
- Breathing problems
- Low appetite
A competent doctor or midwife can protect your baby from contracting herpes by providing medication to treat the virus during the last month of pregnancy to reduce the risk of an outbreak during childbirth. Your doctor should order a C-section if you are in the midst of an outbreak when you go into labor.
Coxsackie virus is an infection that typically causes mild flu-like symptoms that self-resolve. If a woman develops this infection during pregnancy, she can pass it to the baby during childbirth. This can lead to the following adverse effects on the baby:
- Hand, foot, and mouth disease – a rash on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet, accompanied by blisters inside the mouth on the gums, tongue, cheek, and throat, which can make swallowing painful and difficult
- Encephalitis – swelling of the brain that can lead to brain damage and death
- Hepatitis – a liver disease
- Meningoencephalitis – infection of the brain tissue
- Myocarditis – swelling of the heart muscle, which can lead to heart failure and death
- Viral meningitis – a dangerous and often deadly infection of the tissues that cover the brain and spinal cord
This virus requires prompt treatment when symptoms are severe. Depending on your baby’s symptoms, Doctors can detect this infection through multiple testing modalities, including cardiac catheterization, chest X-ray, CT scans, spinal tap, etc.
Bacterial vaginosis affects approximately 10 to 30 percent of pregnant women. It occurs when the healthy bacteria normally found in the vagina becomes dominated by unhealthy bacteria. It can cause an unpleasant “fishy” odor, gray discharge, burning during urination, itching, and pain during sexual activities.
Prenatal doctors and midwives are legally obligated to promptly investigate these symptoms so treatment can be provided to protect the developing fetus. Untreated bacterial vaginosis increases the risk of premature birth and low birth weight. It can also lead to infertility in the mother.
How Do Maternal Infections Lead to Birth Injuries?
Maternal infections during pregnancy or delivery lead to an inflammatory response in the mother as the body attempts to defend itself from the disease. A type of protein known as cytokines is produced, which inhibits the growth of stem cells and brain cells in the fetus. This impairs brain and central nervous system development.
Infections can also harm a developing baby in the womb through the following mechanisms:
- The virus can penetrate the placenta and enter the baby’s developing brain and other organ systems.
- A fever in the mother has been shown to cause adverse effects in the fetus, according to a study published by Frontiers in Immunology.
- Newborn infants have immature immune systems that are not as capable of fighting pathogens as older children and adults.
When maternal infections cause severe symptoms in the mother or infect the placenta, they can lead to premature birth. Premature infants have higher health risks, including increased risks of cerebral palsy and retinopathy, and an increased risk of chronic health conditions as adults, such as diabetes.
Maternal Infections and Medical Malpractice
Medical malpractice occurs when health care providers violate their duty of care by deviating from established medical standards, and an injury occurs. Medical malpractice can stem from actions and omissions. Doctors who provide prenatal care must be competent in common maternal infections and do the following:
- Provide routine screening according to established medical standards.
- Provide additional screening in patients who have risk factors for infections.
- Ask the necessary questions to make an accurate assessment of risks and symptoms.
- Investigate symptoms reported by the patient through appropriate testing.
- Refer the patient to a specialist or consult with a specialist when a patient’s symptoms or diagnosis are outside the provider’s expertise.
- Obtain a complete medical, travel, and sexual history from the patient.
- Act promptly upon observation of new symptoms, such as rashes or confusion.
- Educate pregnant patients on how to avoid infections, such as avoiding contact with cat feces or undercooked meats.
- Promptly treat infections when they are diagnosed.
- Provide follow-up testing when warranted.
Early detection and treatment of maternal infections can prevent pregnancy complications and birth injuries. Doctors and midwives who fail to take reasonable measures to prevent or detect infections may be liable for birth injuries that could have been prevented by treating the infection.
What to Do if a Maternal Infection Harms Your Baby
If a maternal infection has harmed your baby, contact an experienced medical malpractice lawyer immediately. You may be entitled to recover substantial compensation for such losses as the following:
- Your child’s pain and suffering
- Your family’s grief and suffering
- The extra cost of caring for your child
- Your child’s future lost wages
- Your family’s lost wages
- Wrongful death damages
When your baby is harmed because a doctor or midwife failed to timely diagnose a maternal infection during pregnancy or childbirth, we may be able to help you hold multiple parties accountable, including a doctor, nurse, midwife, hospital, birthing center, and pathologist.
Contact Us Today if Your Child Suffered Birth Injuries Because of Maternal Infections
No amount of financial compensation can make up for the pain and grief birth injuries cause, but it can provide the financial means to ensure your child receives the care and education they need to reach the highest level of functioning and healing possible. It can also provide financial security for your child in the future and a sense of justice.
Contact us today for a free consultation with one of our award-winning birth injury lawyers.