Women who are pregnant are three times more likely to fall severely ill if they catch COVID-19

Pregnant women who contract the coronavirus are more likely to become critically ill and die, and are at higher risk for premature delivery, two new reports released on Monday from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) find.

Expecting mothers with COVID-19 were about three times more likely to be admitted to the ICU and need mechanical ventilation compared to non-pregnant women.

Additionally, they were 25 percent more likely to have a preterm baby than pregnant women among the general population.

The CDC team says more efforts need to be placed on educating pregnant women about their risks and importance of seeking medical care immediately if they experience any symptoms.

A new CDC report found that pregnant women with COVID-19 were about three times more likely to be admitted to the ICU and need ventilation compared to non-pregnant women. Pictured: Nurse Janil Wise (left) prepares test for COVID-19 in patient Sarah Bodle, who is 31 weeks pregnant, at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills, California, July 10

For the first report, the team looked at about 409,000 women between ages 15 and 44 who had symptoms of COVID-19 such as coughing and fever.

Of these women, nearly 23,500 – 5.7 percent – were pregnant.

After adjusting for factors, such as race and pre-existing conditions, researchers found that pregnant women were more likely to need intensive care.  

About 10.5 per 1,000 pregnant women were admitted to the ICU, nearly three times the rate of non-pregnant women of 3.9 per 1,000.

Pregnant women were three times more likely to need ventilation with 2.9 cases per 1,000 women versus 1.1 per 1,000 cases among non-pregnant women. 

Expecting mothers were also more likely to die at a rate of about 1.5 deaths per 1,000 compared to 1.2 per 1,000 among non-pregnant women. 

Results also showed disparities for severe illness and death across racial and ethnic groups.

Asian and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander women who were pregnant were much more likely to be admitted to the ICU while Hispanic women were 2.4 times more likely to die.    

Researchers say pregnant women’s susceptibility to developing serious complications may be due to physiologic changes in pregnancy, such as an increased heart rate and decreased lung capacity.

The team said pregnant women and their families need to be counseled about the risks of falling severely ill due to COVID-19.

‘To reduce the risk for severe illness and death from COVID-19, pregnant women should be counseled about the importance of seeking prompt medical care if they have symptoms and measures to prevent SARS-CoV-2 infection should be strongly emphasized for pregnant women and their families during all medical encounters, including prenatal care visits,’ the authors wrote. 

‘Understanding COVID-19–associated risks among pregnant women is important for prevention counseling and clinical care and treatment. 

In a second study, the CDC found that pregnant women infected with coronavirus were more likely to deliver babies prematurely.

For the report, the team looked at nearly 4,500 pregnant women diagnosed with the virus between March 29 and October 14. 

Of the approximately 3,900 live births, 12.9 percent were pre-term – when a baby arrives prior to 37 weeks of pregnancy.

This is 25 percent higher than the 10.2 percent of pre-term live births among the general population in 2019.

Babies born prematurely suffer a greater risk of breathing problems, feeding problems and are more susceptible to contracting infections.

They are also at a higher risk of suffering from physical disabilities, developmental disabilities, cerebral palsy and visual problems.   

Among infants tested for COVID-19, 2.6 percent were positive, most of whom had mothers who were diagnosed with the infection one week prior to delivery. 

‘These data can help to inform and counsel persons who acquire COVID-19 during pregnancy about potential risk to their pregnancy and infants,’ the authors wrote.

‘However, the risks associated with infection early in pregnancy and long-term infant outcomes remain unclear.’

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