• Viral Infections During Pregnancy

    If you are looking for North Shore Associates specific COVID-19 policy, you can find that information here.

    These days, it’s not uncommon to experience an elevated awareness of diseases and viral infections during pregnancy. Symptoms can be both heightened and obscured by your pregnancy. When you’re pregnant, feeling a little nauseous or achy is par for the course. You could wake up in the morning and wonder whether you slept funny or you’re getting sick.

    That said, viral infections during pregnancy are quite common and most often not severe. There are some cases in which viral infections can become serious or when you may need to seek out medical treatment, but by and large viral infections are something your body is well equipped to deal with.


    Types of Viral Infections

    Viral infections are a specific type of contagious, transmissible disease. The vast majority of all infections can be broken down into three categories: viral, bacterial, and (far less often) fungal. While they might sound a little scary, viral infections are incredibly common. And that means, for the most part, your body is exceptionally good at keeping you healthy.

    Therapeutics and treatments for viral infections will depend on the type of virus you may be experiencing. Those types may include, but are not limited to:

    Respiratory: While it may sound rather severe, respiratory infections are quite common. Most respiratory infections are due to a family of viruses called rhinoviruses, which cause the common cold. You may experience a runny nose, a mild fever, or perhaps headaches. More serious respiratory viral infections, such as influenza, can produce more severe symptoms.

    Gastrointestinal: Gastrointestinal, or GI, infections can be caused by a wide variety of viruses. The most common is caused by norovirus, which can be easily spread from person to person or via contaminated food. For most people, norovirus presents as vomiting and diarrhea. However, GI viruses do not always present with these symptoms, and they can impact other parts of the gastrointestinal tract.

    Skin: While they are most commonly associated with childhood maladies, there are some viruses that present as issues of the skin. The most common of these are poxviruses, which are responsible for diseases such as varicella, more commonly known as chickenpox.

    Placental and fetus: The placenta is usually well protected against viruses. But there are some viral infections that specialize in attacking this organ, such as rubella, mumps, and smallpox. Thankfully, vaccines exist to help combat most of these viruses, making transmission exceptionally rare.


    Preventing Viral Infection During Pregnancy

    No one wants to get sick while they’re pregnant! While you will never be able to prevent viral infections with 100% certainty, there are some steps you can take to minimize your chances of contracting a viral illness. Preventing a viral infection during pregnancy is about managing and minimizing risk, and here are a couple of ways you can do that:

    Wash your hands: Handwashing is one of the most effective ways to minimize disease transmission. Wash your hands often and make sure you are scrubbing for at least thirty seconds (you can sing “Happy Birthday” twice for timing).

    Limit your exposure to large crowds: In general, large and dense crowds tend to be effective vectors for all kinds of disease transmission, including viruses. If you want to limit the possibility of viral infections during pregnancy, it’s recommended that you avoid large crowds whenever possible. Additionally, limiting your exposure to children or infected individuals will help you avoid viral infections.

    Practice safe sex: Because some viruses spread through sexual activity or bodily fluids, it’s highly recommended that sexually active pregnant women practice safe sex. Partners should ensure they are wearing condoms in order to prevent the spread of viruses.

    Talk about vaccinations: Not all vaccinations can be given to pregnant women. But your OBGYN will know which vaccinations will be safe, effective, and warranted. You’ll need to know a bit about your medical history to know which diseases you might already be protected from and which vaccines you might still require.

    Get plenty of sleep and eat a balanced diet: Your immune system is susceptible to changes in your eating and sleeping habits. When you’re pregnant, a good night’s sleep might not be possible every night, so just make sure you’re getting enough sleep when you can–and be sure to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables.

    The specific steps you take to avoid viral infections during pregnancy will vary depending on where you live, your daily activities, and what viral infections you are most concerned with. How much you want to interrupt your daily activities and normal life will depend on a variety of risk factors, and that’s something you can talk over with your OBGYN or midwife.


    Treating Viral Infections

    Your body has fought off countless viral infections throughout your lifetime. That’s just part of being alive. For most non-immunocompromised individuals, all your body needs to fight off a cold virus during pregnancy is a little bit of time and a well oiled immune system.

    In nearly all cases, the therapeutic approach will change depending on the virus in question. Most rhinoviruses during pregnancy are left to run their course. An influenza virus, on the other hand, may be treated with antiviral medications when the situation warrants.

    Gastrointestinal infections are usually left to run their course as well, unless you start showing the effects of dehydration. In those cases, further treatment, such as an IV drip, may be required to maintain your health. Your healthcare provider will help you determine the best way to approach treating your virus.

    For most people, the biggest difference about viral infections during pregnancy is how you treat symptoms. When you aren’t pregnant, you might quickly reach for over-the-counter solutions such as ibuprofen or Tylenol in order to help you manage aches, pains, and fevers. During your pregnancy, however, you should talk to your provider before taking these medications. Aspirin and ibuprofen, for example, should be avoided unless you are instructed otherwise.

    You and your provider will discuss and weigh the risks both the virus and the treatment present to you and your pregnancy, as well as any additional tests or diagnostics that may be necessary. 


    What About COVID-19?

    Because viruses are changing and mutating all the time, sometimes novel and new viruses can occur. That’s what happened with the Zika virus a few years back, and it’s what’s happening with COVID-19 now.

    COVID-19 is a respiratory disease with no proven therapeutics of treatments. It’s absolutely essential to follow all CDC guidelines when it comes to prevention and when it comes to your health. You can find those guidelines here.

    Likewise, in order to minimize risk to our patients, staff, and their families, our offices have worked hard to ensure we are in compliance with all state and federal health mandates and recommendations concerning COVID-19.


    Should I Take the COVID-19 Vaccine?

    It’s understandable to have questions and concerns regarding a brand new vaccine. However, it’s important to keep in mind that the three current COVID-19 vaccines have been thoroughly tested and vetted. In fact, hundreds of millions (if not billions) of individuals have now been vaccinated, the overwhelming majority with no problem whatsoever.

    As a result, the OBGYNs and Midwives here at North Shore Associates recommend that everyone who is eligible should get the COVID-19 vaccine. The only exception would be an individual with a pre-existing condition that their physician thinks would make the vaccine less potent (this is exceptionally rare). 


    The COVID-19 Vaccine for Pregnant Women

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and physicians around the country are strongly recommending the vaccine for pregnant women. Because of the toll pregnancy can take on the body, COVID-19 has proven to be especially dangerous for pregnant women, especially when they are unvaccinated. As a result, the OBGYNs and Midwives at NSAGO recommend pregnant women get vaccinated as quickly as possible. 

    There are currently three COVID-19 vaccines available (their names may change as they given full approval by the FDA):

    In almost all cases, you will develop optimal immunity two weeks after you undergo your final dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require, at minimum, five weeks to develop full protection (that said, some protection is better than no protection). Still, the sooner you undergo your vaccinations, the better.

    Depending on the vaccine you received, you may be eligible for a booster shot. We recommend following CDC guidelines on boosters and timing.

    Most studies have shown that vaccines will protect you against severe disease in the case of COVID-19. Most people won’t get sick–those that do become ill from COVID will likely be able to avoid hospitalization. All three vaccines are incredibly successful in this regard.


    When Should I Get My COVID-19 Vaccine?

    We recommend that patients get a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible, regardless of trimester. Sooner in your pregnancy is always better because you will be protected for a greater portion of your pregnancy. But your newborn will receive antibodies regardless of timing. It is safe to receive a COVID-19 vaccine at any point in your pregnancy.

    The sooner you get your vaccine, the sooner you and your baby are protected. 


    Are the COVID-19 Vaccines Safe?

    Some of our patients have expressed concern about the possible side effects the vaccine may have on their baby-to-be, but there’s no evidence of adverse reactions. On the other hand, COVID-19 is known to produce significant adverse reactions in pregnant women (and, thus, on their babies). 

    In other words, the COVID-19 vaccine will protect you and your baby. And that’s why we recommend that everyone who can take the vaccine!

    If you want to know more about how the COVID-19 vaccines work or have specific questions you want answered, schedule a consultation with your physician. 


    Talk to Your Provider

    Viral infections when you’re pregnant are relatively common. In most cases, they result in little more than a runny nose. But they can sometimes be serious. If you have questions about viral infections during pregnancy, contact our offices in Wilmette or Glenview to schedule an appointment.