Millions of people are infected with parasites and serious viruses around the world every year. These infections are particularly dangerous for pregnant women, who have weakened immune systems and run the risk of passing diseases on to their children. Complications arising from these illnesses can cause at-risk pregnancies and result in birth defects or health problems for children after they are born. Here are three common parasites and viruses that can present particular risks to pregnant women.
Toxocariasis, or roundworm infection, is considered by the CDC to be one of the top five “Neglected Parasitic Infections.” While many may erroneously believe that roundworm infection occurs more frequently in the developing world, an estimated 14% of Americans have been exposed to roundworm at some point in their lives. Mothers who are infected with Toxocariasis are often able to be treated with Albendazole and Mebendazole, but early detection and close monitoring by a physician are recommended to ensure a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby. Physicians often recommend pregnant women submit a blood test to check for symptoms. However, in 2018, Belgian researchers developed a lateral flow test for human Toxocariasis, which can allow for earlier detection and quicker diagnosis.
Strongyloidasis is another intestinal roundworm (Strongyloides) that is believed to infect as many as 100 million people globally. As with Toxocariasis, Albendazole use by pregnant women to treat Strongyloides has been evaluated by the World Health Organization and determined to have benefits that outweigh the risks for mother and child. Strongyloidasis is often asymptomatic, so women who are pregnant or think they may become pregnant should be tested
with a lateral flow test. Pregnant women can work with physicians to judge the risk of taking medication while pregnant versus an un-medicated yet infected pregnancy, but this can only be discussed after a strongyloides diagnosis has been made.
Adenoviruses account for a wide variety of viruses, ranging in severity from the common cold to fever, pneumonia, and neurological disease. For that reason, close contact with a physician and adenovirus laboratory throughout pregnancy is necessary to ensure that illnesses do not develop that could cause an at-risk pregnancy. Adenoviruses account for about 10% of respiratory illnesses in young children, and adenovirus infection during pregnancy has been linked to later development of juvenile diabetes. Mortality rates for adenovirusues are also significantly higher for women when they are pregnant.
In the early stages of pregnancy, women should receive comprehensive tests to ensure that they are healthy and that their pregnancy is without complications. Infections with parasites and viruses are common, and on occasion, there are not symptoms or the symptoms go undetected. Having pregnant patients take rapid lateral flow tests for common infections can allow patients and their physicians to discuss treatment options early in the pregnancy, before complications arise in the later stages or after the child is born.