New research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention comparing pregnant and non-pregnant women with COVID-19 has found that infected pregnant women do not have a greater risk of death, though they may be more likely to be hospitalized.
How the coronavirus affects pregnancy — especially if it can infect the baby or increase risk of severe illness — has been a pressing question for doctors since the global outbreak began in late 2019. As the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report explains, pregnant women usually experience more severe illness from respiratory infections, like the flu, but it's unclear whether this applies to the coronavirus.
The new CDC report looks at data for more than 325,000 women of reproductive age, between 15 and 44 years old, who tested positive for COVID-19. The information for about 8,200 of the women indicated they were pregnant. Comparing this group with non-pregnant women, here's what the CDC found:
- Pregnant and non-pregnant women with symptoms experienced cough and shortness of breath at about the same rates, but pregnant women were less likely to develop head and muscle aches, fever, chills and diarrhea.
- Pregnant women were more than fives time more likely to be hospitalized than non-pregnant women. (About 31.5% of pregnant women were hospitalized versus 5.8% of non-pregnant women.)
- Pregnant women were significantly more likely to be admitted to the intensive care unit and receive mechanical ventilation.
- The death rates for pregnant and non-pregnant women were similar, roughly .2%.
"These findings suggest that among women of reproductive age with COVID-19, pregnant women are more likely to be hospitalized and at increased risk for ICU admission and receipt of mechanical ventilation compared with non-pregnant women, but their risk for death is similar," the report stated.
"To reduce occurrence of severe illness from COVID-19, pregnant women should be counseled about the potential risk for severe illness from COVID-19, and measures to prevent infection with SARS-CoV-2 should be emphasized for pregnant women and their families."
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) responded to the recent findings in a statement.
"The new data released today suggest a different level of risk for pregnant patients than was previously indicated by earlier data," Dr. Christopher Zahn, ACOG's vice president of practice activities said, stressing these tips for clinicians in the statement:
- Counsel patients about the potential increased risk of severe illness associated with COVID-19 infection during pregnancy.
- Emphasize the importance of taking precautions to prevent infection when counseling pregnant patients and their families, especially those with increased risk of infection due to their work.
Zahn also encouraged pregnant patients who test positive for COVID-19 to enroll in a registry to help the medical community better track how the coronavirus affects pregnancy, and he highlighted the importance of including pregnant people in vaccine research.