COVID-19 and pregnancy: Expecting moms four times more at risk; infection may cause blood clots, preterm birth
Besides the risk of being exposed to COVID-19 at medical facilities, pregnant women are also at a higher risk of developing blood clots than non-pregnant women
In the initial days of the COVID-19 pandemic, when not much was known about the disease, it was suggested that pregnant women were not at any higher risk of the disease than any other person and that there was little evidence to support the possibility of vertical transmission.
However, much has changed since then. Now, several vertical transmission (from mother to baby) cases have been seen in the world. India’s first case of vertical transmission was seen in Pune this week and pregnant women are now being considered one of the at-risk populations for COVID-19.
In fact, latest research published in the peer-reviewed journal Science Immunology, suggests that pregnant women are four times more likely to get COVID-19 than the general population, mostly due to their higher risk of exposure to the virus at medical facilities. The findings were obtained by studying the presence of antibodies in over 1,200 pregnant women in Philadelphia. Over 6 percent of these women were found to be previously exposed to the virus as compared to the 1.4 percent in the rest of the population. The study pointed out that the rate was higher in hispanic and black women than white and Asian women.
Here are some other pieces of evidence that researchers have found about the effects of COVID-19 during pregnancy.
Higher risk of severe disease, ICU admission
A recent study by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, USA, indicates that pregnant women are more likely to get severe COVID-19 and are at a high risk of being hospitalised or admitted in the intensive care unit (ICU) with need for mechanical ventilation when compared to non-pregnant women.
Higher risk of blood clots
Another study, published in the journal Endocrinology, indicated that pregnant women are at a higher risk of developing blood clots due to COVID-19 than non-pregnant women. Now, experts suggest that pregnant women are already 5 times more likely than non-pregnant women to develop a blood clot. This happens due to various changes that occur in the bodies of women during pregnancy; the blood clots more easily to prevent excessive bleeding during labour and not being active during pregnancy may reduce blood flow to legs, further increasing the risk of clotting. SARS-CoV-2, the COVID-19 causing virus, has also shown to cause blood clotting in patients. So, experts suggest that for pregnant women, this risk may increase further.
Placenta damage and vertical transmission
A study including 16 COVID-19 positive pregnant women found that blood clots were formed in the placenta leading to restriction of blood flow to the baby. Even though all the babies in the study were born in good health, it was suggested that pregnant women should be watched more carefully during the pandemic.
In two other cases, children born to COVID-19 positive women were found to have antibodies against the virus and clinical signs of the infection. However, in the latter, it was not exactly apparent if the infant got the disease while in the womb or during delivery.
Even though no cases of preterm birth or miscarriage has been seen in COVID-19 positive pregnant women, on the basis of the data from SARS and MERS, experts suggest that the novel coronavirus may induce both of these conditions.
Despite all the current evidence, it is worth mentioning that the research is still ongoing and nothing can be said for sure yet. It is highly likely that new things would be found about the virus and its effects on pregnancy in the coming months.
For more information, read our article on Pregnancy and labour management of women with COVID-19.
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