Biochim Biophys Acta Mol Basis Dis. 2021 Jun 9:166198. doi: 10.1016/j.bbadis.2021.166198. Online ahead of print.
Some maternal infections, contracted before or during pregnancy, can be transmitted to the fetus, during gestation (congenital infection), during labor and childbirth (perinatal infection) and through breastfeeding (postnatal infection). The agents responsible for these infections can be viruses, bacteria, protozoa, fungi. Among the viruses most frequently responsible for congenital infections are Cytomegalovirus (CMV), Herpes simplex 1-2, Herpes virus 6, Varicella zoster. Moreover Hepatitis B and C virus, HIV, Parvovirus B19 and non-polio Enteroviruses when contracted during pregnancy may involve the fetus or newborn at birth. Recently, new viruses have emerged, SARS-Cov-2 and Zika virus, of which we do not yet fully know the characteristics and pathogenic power when contracted during pregnancy. Viral infections in pregnancy can damage the fetus (spontaneous abortion, fetal death, intrauterine growth retardation) or the newborn (congenital anomalies, organ diseases with sequelae of different severity). Some risk factors specifically influence the incidence of transmission to the fetus: the timing of the infection in pregnancy, the order of the infection, primary or reinfection or chronic, the duration of membrane rupture, type of delivery, socio-economic conditions and breastfeeding. Frequently infected neonates, symptomatic at birth, have worse outcomes than asymptomatic. Many asymptomatic babies develop long term neurosensory outcomes. The way in which the virus interacts with the maternal immune system, the maternal-fetal interface and the placenta explain these results and also the differences that are observed from time to time in the fetal-neonatal outcomes of maternal infections. The maternal immune system undergoes functional adaptation during pregnancy, once thought as physiological immunosuppression. This adaptation, crucial for generating a balance between maternal immunity and fetus, is necessary to promote and support the pregnancy itself and the growth of the fetus. When this adaptation is upset by the viral infection, the balance is broken, and the infection can spread and lead to the adverse outcomes previously described. In this review we will describe the main viral harmful infections in pregnancy and the potential mechanisms of the damages on the fetus and newborn.