Tick-Borne Infections during Pregnancy – What do I do?!
I was about eight months pregnant when I removed an engorged tick from my body. I couldn’t see it due to my large belly and the tick’s location – right in my groin – but I felt it! And I, admittedly, freaked out.
Getting a tick bite during pregnancy was unsettling for many reasons. Primarily, I worried about getting Lyme disease since the tick I removed had obviously been attached for a while. I called my mom in a panic and scheduled an additional appointment with my doctor. If not Lyme disease, what about the other 15 known tick-borne diseases that can wreak havoc on even healthy people’s bodies?
Most importantly, what could happen to my baby?
A paper examining two case studies of congenital Babesia infection – meaning passed from mother to baby – came out in September 2017 that has prompted questions about tick-borne infections in pregnancy. In both cases, the mothers were diagnosed with Lyme disease during their second trimester of pregnancy. Both were treated with antibiotics and recovered. Their babies were born full term, and neither had any evidence of Lyme disease. This is consistent with previous studies that show Lyme disease can be successfully treated during pregnancy without impacting the unborn baby.
Unfortunately, both babies did contract congenital Babesia, another tick-borne infection, landing them each a 5-10 day stay in the hospital for treatment when they were just a few weeks old. As it turns out, the mothers had “subclinical” Babesia infections during pregnancy, meaning they did not have symptoms and did not require treatment for Babesia. Researchers concluded that they likely contracted Babesia from the same tick bite that gave them Lyme disease.
The good news is in both cases, the babies were treated successfully and showed no clinical signs of infection or relapse after the fact. Additionally, congenital Babesiosis is rare with only nine documented cases on record.
Larger questions remain, however, about tick-borne infections acquired during pregnancy. You can’t treat an infection if you don’t know you have it, and untreated infections can negatively impact pregnant women and their unborn babies. Inflammation, stress, and the immune system’s response to illnesses are dangerous to developing fetuses.
So what are we to do?
Heightened awareness is key. Even though I did not contract Lyme disease or other infection from my tick, I knew I had a tick bite and was vigilant about monitoring my health. But pregnancy can do crazy things to our bodies, and who’s to say headaches, body aches, sore muscles, and nausea aren’t just normal side effects of pregnancy?
There are several things pregnant women can do to protect themselves and their unborn babies. In particular, women who live in areas where Lyme, Babesia, and a host of other infections are common should be extra careful when it comes to prevention. Do all you can to prevent ticks from biting you in the first place:
- Cover up and tuck pant legs into your socks
- Wear light colored clothing to spot ticks more easily
- Use bug spray with containing 30% DEET
- Avoid grassy and brushy areas
- Perform tick checks regularly
It’s also advised to get tested regularly, especially if you experience a flu-like illness. Coppe Laboratories offers a full tick-borne disease panel, which covers >95% of tick-borne illnesses and can be ordered by your healthcare provider. myLymeTest is an inexpensive, simple and accurate test for Lyme disease where you collect your blood sample at home and send it to the lab for testing. I found these resources exceptionally helpful when I found my tick.
Ticks are elusive critters, and tick bites are no laughing matter during pregnancy. The tiny human growing in our bellies is enough to worry about…no sense in complicating matters with tick-borne infections.