My wife is planning to have a baby, but before that she just wanted to check her health. During a routine check-up, she was diagnosed with the ureaplasma urealyticum virus, which the doctor said could cause infertility. What causes this disease and what should we know about it since we are planning to get pregnant?
Dear Doubtful Husband,
Preparing for a future bundle of joy is a big deal, so props to you and your partner for taking steps to get a medical check-up before trying to conceive. And, it's great that you did, because there are certain conditions and infections that can make getting pregnant a challenge. In your partner's particular case: ureaplasma urealyticum (UUR) is a common sexually transmitted infection that often does not cause symptoms, but can affect the urogenital tract. It's caused by bacteria (not a virus) called ureaplasmas (ureaplasma parvum is another type of the same bacteria, but is not implicated as the cause of infection). More to your specific question, undetected or untreated UUR can potentially lead to complications for both men and women, but it's a special concern for pregnant women, fetuses, and infants in particular (read on for more on those). This information may sound scary for prospective parents-to-be, but the good news is that antibiotics can be used to treat and cure this type of infection. Keep reading for more information on the infection and recommended steps to take as the two of you continue down the path to pregnancy.
Ureplasmas are typically found in the cervix or vagina of females or the urethra of males; and these bacteria colonize (i.e., grow and are present) in healthy individuals without experiencing any symptoms. If those with infection have symptoms, however, they may include or result in:
- For females: an unusual vaginal odor, atypical vaginal bleeding, or vaginal discharge that is an unusual color or consistency. It may result in pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).
- For males: UUR infections may result in nongonococcal urethritis.
A particular concern with this infection has to do with complications that occur due to an undetected or untreated UUR infection. Unfortunately, pregnant women who don’t know they have this infection may experience premature labor, miscarriage, stillborn birth, or infertility. Because UUR can be sexually transmitted, it can also be passed on to a sexual partner or to a baby during pregnancy. If UUR is passed onto the fetus, it could lead to possible intra-amniotic infection and pre-term delivery. It could also cause low birth weight, pneumonia, septicemia (bacteria in the blood), and meningitis in premature babies and newborns. Men aren't exempt from consequences of an undetected or untreated infection, either. Recent research has suggested that an asymptomatic UUR infection may actually result in a number of conditions, including dysfunction of the sexual accessory glands (which produce seminal fluid), prostate infection, epididymitis, or infertility.
Following a positive diagnosis, it's best for you and your partner to heed your health care provider's direction. S/he can help determine if or how this infection could impact a future pregnancy and guide you and your partner through any necessary treatment (which can include antibiotics). As you continue to prepare for baby-to-be, you might also be interested in checking out some Q&As in the Reproduction category in the Go Ask Alice! Sexual and Reproductive Health archives.
May your quest to have a baby be a happy and healthy one!