pregnant person

Tick-Borne Infections In Pregnancy: Overview & Outcomes

Getting bitten by a tick isn’t always a cause for concern, because not all ticks contain infectious bacteria. However, many do, so if you are bitten, you may be at risk of contracting Lyme disease. Lyme can be debilitating because of the way the bacteria infiltrates the body, hiding out in tissues and causing damage over the long term.

Understandably, when a person is pregnant, they may wonder if getting a tick-borne infection can harm their unborn child. Research has investigated the impact that Lyme disease can have on both the child as well as the person carrying the baby. While the serious repercussions of Lyme disease spreading to the unborn child are rare, there are some things those expecting should be aware of when it comes to tick-borne infections in pregnancy. 

What happens if you get a tick when pregnant?

As mentioned above, not every tick bite you get while pregnant will be cause for concern. That being said, ticks can carry copious amounts of bacteria and transfer them to you with just one bite. Because of this, if you are bitten by a tick while pregnant, you will have to be on the lookout for any symptoms of a tick-borne infection such as mild aches and pains, joint swelling or pain, headaches, and flu symptoms. Another signs that a tick bite has passed a bacterial infection onto you is a bulls-eye-like rash at the site of the bite.

When considering Lyme disease in particular, it’s possible that the bacteria may make its way across the placenta, meaning your unborn child could also be affected. According to research, a fetus that has contracted a tick-borne infection can experience the same – or worse – health consequences than the pregnant person.

pregnant woman
Image by Camylla Battani on Unsplash: Pregnancy and Lyme disease: cause for worry?

How does Lyme disease affect pregnancy?

During pregnancy, a person with Lyme disease can experience all the notable symptoms associated with the infection as mentioned above. However, their child can also be subject to health issues while inside the womb.

There are various issues that can arise if a person becomes infected with Lyme disease during pregnancy. The first has to do with the immune system. During pregnancy, the immune system and its modulation is changed. The function of certain cells that are meant to help fight off infection is reduced, which can increase a person’s susceptibility to worsened infection. This leaves both the parent as well as the fetus compromised.

As previously mentioned, the bacteria that causes Lyme disease can also make its way across the placental barrier and cause infection within a fetus. Due to infection in this crucial developmental state, the child can suffer various health consequences because of the infiltration of its vital organs while they have not yet fully developed.

What are the possible outcomes of Lyme disease if you’re pregnant?

Unfortunately, some common Lyme disease symptoms such as joint pain or muscle aches may be mistaken for pregnancy pains and side effects, especially during the later trimesters. This can often leave people untreated for Lyme disease, increasing the risk of negative impacts on their unborn child.

Lyme disease in pregnancy can sometimes have grave consequences. One particular study examined a case where a pregnant mother contracted Lyme disease, which was then passed on to her infant through the placental barrier. The mother contracted Lyme disease during the first trimester and gave birth at 35 weeks. After she had given birth, she developed Lyme disease symptoms and her newborn child died of congenital heart disease. An examination of how the infant died showed that the spirochetes from the bacteria that causes Lyme disease had made their way into the child’s spleen, kidneys, and bone marrow. However, they were not found in the heart.

A number of other cases of Lyme disease in pregnancy were documented in which the infants were stillbirths. Miscarriages have also been shown to occur in people who are pregnant and contract Lyme disease.

While these are the worst-case scenarios associated with Lyme disease and pregnancy, other cases of Lyme disease in newborn infants found that even when a child lived through pregnancy and delivery, they were infected with Lyme disease bacteria and began showing symptoms of infection within three weeks of delivery. Another infant was found to have neurological dysfunction because of Lyme disease after birth, even though the mother had been treated for Lyme disease in the second trimester of pregnancy. The mother also tested negative for Lyme disease when she delivered the child.

tick on flower
Image by Erik Karits on Unsplash: Can Lyme disease cause stillbirth? In rare cases it is a possibility.

There are various other cases that highlight further issues that can occur if an unborn child becomes infected with Lyme disease. These consequences include:

  • Arthritis
  • Growth impairment
  • Developmental delays
  • Anemia
  • Fever
  • Skin rashes
  • Swelling of the liver and spleen
  • Enlargement of the lymph nodes

While these consequences do not occur for everyone who is pregnant and contracts Lyme disease, they are a possibility. Therefore, it’s vital that Lyme disease be avoided at all costs if you are pregnant. If a person has already contracted Lyme while pregnant, they should seek prompt treatment. Treatment for Lyme disease during pregnancy significantly reduces the risk of any serious negative health outcomes for the fetus.

What does tick bite treatment in pregnancy involve?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the treatment options for people who are pregnant and have contracted Lyme disease are similar to the options for those who are not pregnant. The first-line remedy is antibiotics, which are designed to kill the bacteria within the body. Amoxicillin and cefuroxime should be used in pregnant people for up to three weeks to help treat Lyme disease. However, certain antibiotics that are often used for Lyme disease, such as doxycycline, should be avoided because they, too, can negatively affect the fetus.

Contracting Lyme disease while pregnant does not guarantee a severely negative outcome. However, if you are bitten by an infected tick, it’s vital to seek prompt treatment to avoid any serious health complications for yourself and your child.

Featured image by Freestocks on Unsplash

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