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Understanding STDs in Pregnancy -- Basic Information

How Do STDs Affect Pregnancy?

At your first prenatal visit, your healthcare provider will perform some standard blood tests. He or she will check for several sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) including syphilis, hepatitis B, gonorrhea, chlamydia, and possibly human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the virus that causes AIDS. Finding out you have an STD can be very frightening. But not knowing, and not getting treatment, can be harmful or even fatal to you or your baby.

The following are some common STDs. If you think you may have been exposed to one or more, or you are unsure, talk with your doctor. He or she is there to help you get the treatment you need during your pregnancy. Remember, even if you are getting treatment for an STD, you can be re-infected by a sexual partner who is not being treated.

Did You Know?

Under the Affordable Care Act, many health insurance plans will cover prenatal services, including screening tests and breastfeeding support, at no cost to you. Learn more.

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Protect yourself from STDs by practicing safe sex: Use condoms and spermicides unless you know for sure that you and your partner are disease-free and monogamous.

HIV

The number of women with HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) has been steadily increasing worldwide. Women account for approximately 50% of the 33 to 34 million adults living with HIV/AIDS. Most of them were exposed to it from a male sexual partner; the rest became infected through needles, or other exposure to secretions and blood products. If you become infected with HIV, you may have no symptoms for years. Even so, you carry the virus and can infect others, including your baby if you become pregnant. If you become infected, your body soon starts making antibodies against the virus and you become HIV positive. That means if your blood were tested, you would test positive for the antibody against HIV. Getting tested is the only way to find out if you are infected.

If you are HIV positive, you may develop AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome), which includes a variety of conditions that take hold once your immune system is weakened by the virus, such as infections of your lungs and Kaposi's sarcoma, a rare cancer.

Your baby can contract HIV from you while in your uterus, during delivery, or through your breast milk. More than 90% of children living with AIDS contracted HIV from their infected mothers, either before or during birth, or through breast milk. Many babies get HIV during labor and delivery. Having a cesarean delivery may decrease the chances of your baby getting HIV. A baby born with HIV usually has no apparent symptoms, and problems sometimes do not develop until years later.

If you are HIV positive and you do not take any medications to prevent transmission of HIV to your baby, there is a 25% chance that your baby will become infected. But if you take medications before and during childbirth, you can reduce that risk to less than 2%.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the CDC recommend that all pregnant women voluntarily get tested for HIV. If you are infected with HIV, or think that there is even a slight chance you may be, it is vital that you tell your doctor immediately so you can be tested and receive antiviral medication, if needed.

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