Researchers have asked pregnant women infected with gonorrhea not to ignore it, warning that the sexually-transmitted infection has adverse effects on pregnancy outcomes if left untreated. The experts said untreated gonorrhea in pregnancy may likely cause repeated miscarriage; and eye infection in children where such pregnancies are carried to term.
This might lead to blindness in the newborn, they warn.
The experts also assert that pregnant women with gonorrhea are at risk of pre-term birth — a leading cause of under-five mortality globally, according to the World Health Organisation.
Speaking with PUNCH Healthwise, a Senior Lecturer at the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, College of Medicine, University of Lagos, Dr. Ochuwa Babah, said gonorrhea is worth treating among expectant mothers, considering the complications associated with it if left untreated.
Babah spoke against the backdrop of a study published in the Journal of American Sexually Transmitted Diseases Association, which found that about 50 percent of untreated maternal gonorrhea infections are transmitted to the neonate during birth, which they say could cause eye and lower respiratory tract infections.
Dr. Babah said pregnant women with the infection should avoid self-medication, urging them to seek proper medical care from qualified medical personnel to avoid the drugs having further negative impact on their babies.
The consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist, explained, “Gonorrhea infection is one of the sexually transmitted diseases. In the past, there used to be this general belief that sexually transmitted diseases cannot occur in pregnancy.
“But we now have evidence to show that they do occur in pregnancy. Gonorrhea in particular is an infection that can occur in about zero to 14.2 percent of pregnancy. The prevalence varies from place to place, depending on behavioral attitude of the people.
“Gonorrhea is not as common as Chlamydia trachomatis, which is another sexually transmitted disease. But it has been found to impact adversely on pregnancy, both in women that have HIV and even in women that do not have HIV.
“Commonest of these complications is the occurrence of continuous miscarriage. It starts with vaginal bleeding and some abdominal cramp and before you know it, the bleeding becomes heavy and by the time the woman gets to the hospital, she would be told she has lost the pregnancy. This usually happens at the early stage of the pregnancy.”
Researchers say gonococcal eye infections can result in corneal damage and blindness if left untreated; and that untreated STIs in pregnancy are associated with adverse outcomes in the neonate, such as conjunctivitis, pneumonia, sepsis and infant death.
Dr. Babah said, “This infection spreads upward from the vagina towards the cervix and then towards the uterus. It weakens the membrane surrounding the baby.
“When the weak membrane gets torn, the water drains out. So, the woman can present with what we call premature rupture of membrane.
“Also, the infection might spread to the uterine lining and cause irritation that will trigger contraction and the woman will go into early labour. If the infection becomes overwhelming, it can affect the baby to the extent of killing the baby. At the end of the day, the baby dies in the womb.”
The gynaecologist noted that babies that are born alive might develop certain health problems.