A perinatal infection is an infection caused by bacteria, viruses or, in rare cases, parasites transmitted directly from the mother to an embryo, fetus or baby during pregnancy or childbirth. The term congenital infection is also sometimes used. Nutritional deficiencies may exacerbate the risks of perinatal infection.
The embryo and fetus have little or no immune function. They depend on the immune function of their mother. Several pathogens can cross the placenta and cause (perinatal) infection. Often microorganisms that produce minor illness in the mother are very dangerous for the developing embryo or fetus. This can result in spontaneous abortion or major developmental disorders. For many infections, the baby is more at risk at particular stages of pregnancy. Problems related to perinatal infection are not always directly noticeable.
The term TORCH complex refers to a set of several different infections that may be caused by transplacental infection.
Babies can also become infected by their mother during birth. Some infectious agents may be transmitted to the embryo or fetus in the uterus, while passing through the birth canal or even shortly after birth. The distinction is important because when transmission is primarily during or after birth, medical intervention can help prevent infections in the infant.
During birth, babies are exposed to maternal blood and body fluids without the placental barrier intervening and to the maternal genital tract. Because of this, blood-borne microorganisms (Hepatitis B, HIV), organisms associated with sexually transmitted disease (e.g., Gonorrhoea and Chlamydia), and normal fauna of the genito-urinary tract (e.g., Candida) are among those commonly seen in infection of newborns.
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