Getty A pregnant woman in the hospital (stock photo, posed by model)
Pregnant women are at higher risk of death and severe illness from COVID-19 than women who are not pregnant, a new study found, though their overall risk is still low.
The study, from the Centers for Disease Control, is the largest yet to look at how COVID-19 affects pregnant women, and showed that they were 70 percent more likely to die from the virus than nonpregnant women with COVID-19.
“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 new study, told The New York Times.
The CDC researchers analyzed the outcomes of 409,462 women between the ages of 15 and 44 who tested positive for COVID-19 and were experiencing symptoms. Of those women, 23,434 were pregnant during their illness.
The researchers found that in addition to being at a higher risk of death, pregnant women were nearly three times more likely to require intensive care and more than three times more likely to be put on a ventilator.
However, the overall risk of death or severe illness from COVID-19 is still low, as pregnant women are typically young and healthy enough to carry a child, which gives them better outcomes against the virus. Of the 23,434 pregnant women who tested positive for COVID-19 that were studied, 34 died, a death rate of 0.2. For the other, nonpregnant women, the death rate was 0.1.
“The absolute risk of these severe outcomes is low among women 15 to 44, regardless of pregnancy status, but what we do see is an increased risk associated with pregnancy,” Ellington said.
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The study also highlighted the disparities in COVID-19 outcomes in women of color. Almost one-third of the pregnant women with COVID-19 were Hispanic, and though Black women accounted for just 14 percent of the pregnant women, they made up nine of the 34 deaths.
The CDC also published a smaller study on pregnancy and COVID-19 on Monday, which showed that women who tested positive for the virus were at a higher likelihood of delivering their babies prematurely. Of the 3,912 pregnant women analyzed in the study, 12.9 percent of live births were premature. Typically, 10.2 percent of live births are premature.
From this group, 610 of the newborns were tested for COVID-19 after their delivery. Of those babies, 2.6 tested positive, and most of those positive cases came from mothers who had been infected in the week before giving birth.
“This study underscores how important it is that pregnant women avoid contracting COVID-19,” Dr. Jennifer Haythe, an assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University Medical Center who specializes in the care of pregnant women, and member of PEOPLE’s Health Squad, tells PEOPLE. “However, it is also essential that they go to prenatal visits and get their appropriate peri-partum medical care. Therefore, extra caution should be taken during pregnancy.”
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