Posted by Francesca Lim
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Monkeypox and Pregnancy: Risks to Women and Infants

Monkeypox is a serious illness that can have devastating consequences for both women and their infants. Pregnant and lactating women and their newborn babies are more vulnerable to the disease. Since there’s no specific treatment for the disease, it’s crucial to do everything possible to reduce the risk of exposure.

While data regarding monkeypox infection in pregnancy are limited, the virus can be transmitted to the fetus during pregnancy or to the newborn by close contact during and after birth. Here’s what you need to know about monkeypox and pregnancy.

How can pregnant women tell if they are suffering from monkeypox?

The signs and symptoms of monkeypox infection in pregnancy appear like those of nonpregnant people, including fever, headache, muscle aches, exhaustion, and a rash. The rash usually starts on the face and spreads to other body parts, accompanied by lesions, open sores, or blisters.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that most cases of monkeypox are mild, although rare severe or fatal infections can occur. If you experience any of these symptoms during pregnancy, you must see a healthcare provider immediately. They can order tests to confirm whether or not you have monkeypox. Early diagnosis and treatment are critical to preventing serious complications.

How does monkeypox affect pregnant women?

Because of the rarity of the monkeypox virus, it’s hard to know how pregnant women and their unborn babies might be affected. Available information suggests that contracting monkeypox during pregnancy can be dangerous for the fetus because the virus can be transmitted across the placenta. There is also a higher risk of miscarriage or stillbirth during pregnancy. Therefore, it’s crucial for pregnant patients to minimize exposure risk.

Most pregnant women who contract monkeypox will experience a mild illness. However, there is a risk of serious complications. Additionally, women infected with monkeypox during pregnancy are at risk of transmitting the virus to their fetus or newborn baby.

Since there is no specific treatment for monkeypox, pregnant women who contract the virus will need to be closely monitored. In some cases, it may be necessary to monitor the fetal development and the mother in an isolation room, depending on her symptoms.

A cesarean delivery may be offered to a patient with genital lesions. It is important that the newborn baby is carefully monitored and precautions are taken to reduce the risk of transmission from the mother to the baby. 

What are the risks of monkeypox for newborn babies?

Newborn babies exposed to monkeypox are at risk of developing the disease. The virus can be transmitted to the baby through the placenta, during delivery, or through close contact with an infected person after birth.

Newborn babies may be at risk of more serious symptoms and death from monkeypox. Complications from monkeypox include secondary skin infections and pneumonia, and eye problems which can be life-threatening. There is no specific treatment for monkeypox in babies. Treatment focuses on relieving symptoms and supporting the baby’s respiratory and cardiovascular systems.

How is monkeypox treated during pregnancy?

There is no specific treatment for monkeypox. Pregnant women who contract the virus will need to be hospitalized and closely monitored. 

Can pregnant women receive vaccines for monkeypox?

There is no vaccine available for monkeypox. However, vaccines available for other diseases such as chickenpox and smallpox can offer some protection against monkeypox. Pregnant women should talk to their healthcare provider about whether or not these vaccines are right for them.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pregnant women can receive the JYNNEOS monkeypox vaccine. However, the organization notes insufficient human data to determine if the vaccine poses any risks when used during pregnancy.

A woman may be considered for Jynneos if she had close physical contact with an infected individual or has met other criteria. Vaccination is not recommended for women without risk factors.

How can pregnant women reduce their risk of monkeypox?

Though infection risk is low, following common sense steps can help reduce the spread of monkeypox. The best way to protect yourself and your baby is to avoid close contact with people who are sick or have been exposed to the virus. If you must be around someone infected, wear a face mask and gloves.

Pregnant women who live in or travel to areas where monkeypox is found should take extra precautions to avoid exposure. Pregnant women exposed to the virus should consult their healthcare provider immediately. Early detection and treatment can reduce the risks of serious complications.

What about women who are breastfeeding infants?

There is no evidence that the monkeypox virus can be transmitted through breast milk. If you are breastfeeding and have been exposed to the monkeypox virus, talk to your healthcare provider for advice. They will determine if your baby is at risk of monkeypox transmission and whether you should withhold breastfeeding. 

Skin-to-skin contact during isolation

A patient in isolation for monkeypox should not have direct contact with their newborn. A patient who chooses to have infant contact during their infectious period must follow the following precautions:

  • No direct skin-to-skin contact
  • Infants should be fully clothed or swaddled, and the clothing or blanket should be replaced right after every contact
  • All visible skin below the neck should be covered by gloves and a fresh gown 
  • Soiled linens should be removed from the area
  • The patient should wear a medical mask or other well-fitting source control to prevent airborne contaminants during the visit

Monkeypox can be scary, especially for expecting mothers and new parents. The good news is that there’s help available. If you have any questions or concerns about monkeypox and pregnancy, talk to your Nao Medical OB-GYN so they can help you make the best decisions for your health and the health of your baby.