Pregnant women may be at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19 compared with non-pregnant women, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday, breaking from earlier guidance that found no difference in risk between the two groups.
The good news is that pregnant women who are infected with COVID-19 aren’t at any greater risk of death than women who aren’t pregnant, said Dr. Dana Meaney-Delman, a COVID-19 deputy incident manager with the CDC.
The worse news is that infected pregnant women are more likely to be hospitalized and are at increased risk for ICU admission and to require mechanical ventilation, according to a CDC study of thousands of women in the U.S. from January to June.
Among women with COVID-19, about 32% of pregnant women were reported to have been hospitalized, compared with about 6% of nonpregnant women, the study found.
The CDC did not have the reason people were admitted to the hospital, so it could simply be women were going into labor and were entering the hospital to deliver, said Dr. Richard Beigi, president of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Magee-Womens Hospital in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania.
“In the United States, pregnancy is the number one reason for hospital admission,” he said. “What that means to me is they’re probably picking up people for whom it’s just time to deliver.”
So far, there’s no data on how a COVID-19 infection affects a woman’s pregnancy or the health outcomes of their babies, Meaney-Delman said.
“Pregnancy is nine months,” Meaney-Delman noted, so most women who’ve become pregnant since the coronavirus began to circulate widely in the U.S. haven’t yet given birth.
There is concern that a COVID-19 infection could bring on preterm labor or premature birth, but information is still being collected, she said.
Several international studies seem to show no risk to babies, said Beigi.
“It does not appear to be a severe neonatal problem in the overwhelming majority of cases. Our local experience corroborates that,” he said.
The CDC findings are similar to those from a recent study in Sweden, which found that pregnant women with COVID-19 were five times more likely to be admitted to the ICU and four times more like to receive mechanical ventilation than were nonpregnant women, according to the study.
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The CDC study recommended that pregnant women not skip prenatal care appointments. They should also limit interactions with other people as much as possible, take precautions to prevent getting COVID-19 when interacting with others, have at least a 30-day supply of medicines, and talk with their health care provider about how to stay healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The CDC has previously noted that pregnant women are at greater risk of getting sick from other respiratory viruses than people who are not pregnant but said that there is “no data” showing that COVID-19 affects pregnant women differently from others.
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Toward the beginning of the pandemic, pregnant women were initially grouped with other at-risk groups, such as the elderly and those with chronic health conditions, but that changed when it became clear neither they nor their fetuses were seriously affected by COVID-19.
More on coronavirus, pregnancy and birth:
- Many opting for home births to avoid hospital amid pandemic
- Newborn triplets test positive for COVID-19
- How to be safe out in the world