One of the biggest concerns about COVID-19, the illness caused by the new 2019 coronavirus, is how the infection affects pregnant women and their unborn children.
According to the United States Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, pregnant women who test positive for COVID-19 might be at increased risk for severe illness, compared with nonpregnant women who have the virus.
The CDC based its report on an analysis of approximately 400,000 women aged 15–44 years with symptomatic COVID-19.
It noted that an analysis of the subjects showed that they were more likely to be admitted to intensive care unit, and they were more likely to be placed on invasive ventilation.
The report added that such women are also likely to need extracorporeal membrane oxygenation — which is a prolonged cardiac and respiratory support to persons whose heart and lungs are unable to provide an adequate amount of gas exchange or perfusion to sustain life. The CDC concluded that such women are also likely to die.
In the report released on Monday and spanning January 22–October 3, 2020, the scientists warned that pregnant women infected with the coronavirus are more likely to become severely ill and die from the virus.
They are also at increased risk for premature delivery, it says, noting, although, that the overall risk of severe illness or death remains low.
Although the absolute risks for severe COVID-19–associated outcomes among women were low, pregnant women were at significantly higher risk for severe outcomes, compared with nonpregnant women.
But why can pregnancy increase a woman’s risk of complications from COVID-19?
“Pregnancy induces changes in respiratory physiology and translates to lower thresholds for needed medical attention,” Dr. Amesh A. Adalja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, says.
Pregnancy also dampens a woman’s immune system function, “which can leave pregnant women more vulnerable to all sorts of infections, including COVID-19,” women’s health expert Dr. Jennifer Wider tells Yahoo Life.
Pregnant women have a decreased lung capacity as well, putting them at greater risk of severe complications from a respiratory illness, Dr. Michael Cackovic, a maternal-fetal medicine physician at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, tells Yahoo Life.
That’s partly “why we think influenza affects pregnancy women more severely,” he says.
“This finding might be related to physiologic changes in pregnancy, including increased heart rate and oxygen consumption, decreased lung capacity, a shift away from cell-mediated immunity, and increased risk for thromboembolic disease,”
the CDC report also said.
It zeroed in on age brackets that are more at risk, stating,
“pregnant women aged 35–44 years with COVID-19 were nearly four times as likely to require invasive ventilation and twice as likely to die than were nonpregnant women of the same age.”
The researchers warned that pregnant women should be counseled about the risk for severe COVID-19–associated illness, including death; adding that they need to be taught the measures to prevent infection with the virus.
“These findings can inform clinical practice, risk communication, and medical countermeasure allocation,” CDC stated.
What can pregnant women do to stay safe?
The CDC specifically recommends that pregnant women do the following:
- Limit interactions with people who might have been exposed to or infected with COVID-19, including people within your household, as much as possible.
- When going out or interacting with others outside your immediate household:
- Wear a mask, especially when other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.
- Avoid others who are not wearing masks or ask others around you to wear a mask, if possible.
- Stay at least 6 feet away from people outside your household.
- Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. And, if soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol.
- Avoid doing activities where taking protective measures may be difficult and where social distancing can’t be maintained.
“Pregnant women should be especially careful to avoid becoming infected,” Dr. Richard Watkins, an infectious disease physician in Akron, Ohio, and a professor of medicine at the Northeast Ohio Medical University, tells Yahoo Life.
That includes avoiding traditional pregnancy milestones like having a traditional baby shower, he says.
“In-person baby showers should not happen under current circumstances,” Watkins says. “I’ve had patients who have had drive-by or Zoom baby showers,” Greves says. “That’s a safer choice. There are plenty of asymptomatic carriers out there.”
Pregnant women should also urge their family members to be diligent about practicing known methods of preventing the spread of COVID-19, like social distancing, wearing masks and washing their hands regularly, Cackovic says.
Wider urges expectant families to take this information seriously.
“Pregnant women and their families need to pay close attention to this study and strictly follow the recommended preventative safety protocols,” she says.
Healthcare providers who care for pregnant women are also advised to be familiar with guidelines for medical management of COVID-19, including considerations for management of COVID-19 in pregnancy.
Meanwhile, a separate report found that the rate of preterm birth, when a baby is born before 37 weeks of pregnancy, is 12.9 percent among women with coronavirus, compared to 10.2 percent among the general population.
The new research adds to a growing body of evidence that pregnant women are at increased risk when it comes to coronavirus, said Dr. Denise Jamieson, chairman of the gynaecology and obstetrics department at Emory University School of Medicine.
“It also demonstrates that their infants are at risk, even if their infants are not infected, they may be affected,”