Scenario: Infection awareness in pregnancy

Fozia Jafari asks pharmacist Parveen if she can speak to her in confidence, so Parveen suggests they go into the consultation room.

“I haven’t really told anyone yet but I have just found out that I am pregnant,” says Fozia. “I’m fine and all that, but I suddenly remembered seeing signs about pregnant women needing to be careful during lambing season at the play farm, and we’ve booked Aadil’s fourth birthday party there. To be honest, I have no idea when the lambing season is, but I’m assuming it might be around now because we’re coming into spring. What should I do?
I don’t really want to cancel the party – but I don’t want to put this baby at risk.”

Answer

Pregnant women are advised to avoid close contact with sheep during the lambing season, which runs from January to April, because of the risk of contracting an infection that may harm them or their unborn child.

The risk is also posed by cows and goats that have recently given birth and is present all year round, not just at lambing season, but is actually very small as the culpable infections are uncommon in sheep and very rare in humans.

Fozia should be advised that, in order to avoid the risk of infection, she should not be involved in any aspect of the birth of a lamb, calf or kid, stay away from any materials that may have become contaminated during birthing such as bedding or clothing, and not take part in milking.

Assuming she can do all this and the farm can reassure her that it will do what it can in reducing the risk to her and her unborn child, there is no need to cancel the birthday party.

The BIGGER picture

The main infections pregnant women need to be aware of are:

  • Chlamydiosis (caused by the bacterium Chlamydophila abortus), which can cause serious, life-threatening disease in pregnant women and precipitate stillbirth or miscarriage
  • Listeriosis (caused by the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes), which can cause abortion or premature birth, septicaemia and meningitis with 50-100 per cent mortality if the baby becomes infected in the womb or during delivery, and carries the risk of multi-organ problems in infants who survive
  • Toxoplasmosis (caused by the parasite Toxoplasma gondii), which can lead to congenital malformations and eye disease in later life
  • Q fever (caused by the bacterium Coxiella burnetii), which can lead to miscarriage, premature birth and low birth weight. All the above are zoonotic; that is, they can be transmitted between animals and humans.

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