The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report this week suggesting that pregnant women who contract COVID-19 may be at risk of developing severe illness but added to evidence that the majority of those with the virus show no symptoms.
The data builds on an earlier study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, that found that 29 of 33 women who tested positive for the virus at two New York hospitals had no symptoms upon admission. The CDC’s new study analyzed 598 hospitalized pregnant women in 14 different states who tested positive for COVID-19 upon admission. In all, 326 women were asymptomatic.
But unlike the NEJM study, the CDC’s study found complications in a small percentage of symptomatic women. Of this group — 272 women in all — 16 percent (44 women) required treatment in the intensive care unit, 23 percent (31 women) experienced preterm birth and 8 percent (23 women) were put on mechanical ventilation. Two ultimately died. None of the asymptomatic women were sent to the ICU or put on a ventilator, but of the 10 births that resulted in pregnancy loss, three of the women were asymptomatic.
.@CDCMMWR report looking at almost 600 hospitalized pregnant women with #COVID19 found that pregnant women can have severe illness and poor birth outcomes, such as the mother requiring intensive care, pregnancy loss, and preterm birth. Learn more: https://t.co/Dx6neeuywg pic.twitter.com/RANDwyU6Ho
— Dr. Robert R. Redfield (@CDCDirector) September 16, 2020
Although the results may seem alarming, Dr. Tosin Jaiyeoba Goje, head of the Cleveland Clinic’s Reproductive Infectious Diseases Program, says the fact that 55 percent of the women were asymptomatic is positive. “This is reassuring for women who may be concerned that they are asymptomatic carriers,” Goje tells Yahoo Life. “Their risk of morbidity and mortality from COVID-19 is low, but they need to continue to optimize their general health by continuing prenatal care, practice universal pandemic precautions and take steps to decrease anxiety, which is higher than normal during the pandemic.”
Goje says that both pregnancy loss and preterm birth — the latter of which occurred in 20 women who were asymptomatic — have been linked to other infectious diseases. “During pregnancy, the immunologic alterations and physiologic changes that affect respiratory, cardiovascular and other organ systems place women at increased risk for certain infections and associated complications,” says Goje. “This was also seen during the H1N1 pandemic.”
The CDC report notes that there are limitations to the data — among them that the sample may not be representative of all pregnant women, and that inadequate COVID-19 testing may have led to missed cases (which could have affected the overall percentages significantly). Goje urges caution to anyone interpreting the data and says that overall the report is not a reason to panic.
“Pregnant women during the pandemic should continue to maintain the universal pandemic precautions of social distancing, maintaining hand hygiene and use of face mask/covering for prevention,” she says, adding that women should bring any concerns to their health care provider.
While Goje doesn’t believe that pregnant women need increased surveillance (“the overall mortality of COVID-19 in pregnancy is low”), she says that those who are concerned should focus on staying as healthy as possible. “The best way to combat infectious disease process is prevention,” says Goje. “Prevention at individual and community level.”
The CDC’s website lists steps that pregnant women can take to stay safe, including limiting close contact with others, wearing a mask, avoiding activities where social distancing is not possible and getting all recommended vaccines, including the flu shot. For more information, visit the organization’s COVID-19 and pregnancy information page.
For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at https://news.yahoo.com/coronavirus. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides.
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