New study shows pregnant women with COVID-19 are at heightened risk of complications, death

Pregnant - COVID-19
Photo via Jerry Lai/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Pregnant women presenting symptoms of COVID-19 are more likely to face complications and a higher risk of death during pregnancy, new research shows.

Research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention examined more than 400,000 women ages 15-44. About 23,000 of those women were pregnant. The study found that pregnant women with symptomatic COVID-19 were significantly more likely to require intensive care and mechanical ventilation compared to non-pregnant symptomatic women. 

Pregnant women who showed symptoms of COVID-19 were also 70% more likely to die than non-pregnant women. A separate report from the CDC found pregnant COVID-19 patients were also more likely to have a premature delivery.

“We are now saying pregnant women are at increased risk for severe illness. Previously we said they ‘might be’ at increased risk for severe illness,” Sascha Ellington, a health scientist with the CDC and one of the authors of the study, told the New York Times.

Researchers said the increased likelihood of severe illness and death among pregnant women may be due to physiological changes that occur during pregnancy. These include increased heart rate and decreased lung capacity.

The risk of serious illness and death is still low overall for women ages 15-44, but researchers found disparities based on race and ethnicity. Approximately one-third of pregnant women with COVID-19 were Hispanic. And about 26% of women who died were Black women, despite making up only 14% of pregnant women in the study.

Doctors are urging pregnant women to take coronavirus precaution methods seriously, as they are more likely to be seriously affected by the virus. 

“This is new information that adds to the growing body of evidence, and really underscores the importance of pregnant women protecting themselves from COVID,” Dr. Denise Jamieson, chair of gynecology and obstetrics at Emory University School of Medicine, told the New York Times. “It’s important that they wear a mask, and avoid people who are not wearing a mask.”

Additionally, Jamieson stressed the importance of getting proper prenatal care and necessary vaccines, including the flu shot, to stay healthy. The CDC recommends social distancing, wearing a mask, and frequently washing hands to protect yourself and others from COVID-19.

Jamieson also said pregnant women should be considered in the development and distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine.

“Pregnant women need to be included in the different phases of vaccine trials, so that when a vaccine is available we understand the safety and efficacy of vaccines in pregnancy,” she said. “It’s really important that when there’s a vaccine available that pregnant women are not denied the opportunity to be vaccinated.”

Sources: CNN, The New York Times, CDC

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