Science’s COVID-19 reporting is supported by the Heising-Simons Foundation.
Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, it has become increasingly clear that COVID-19 hits pregnant women harder than the general population. Now, one of the first large studies with a proper control group has firmed up earlier evidence for how the virus can alter the course of pregnancy and harm mothers and their newborns.
The study of more than 2100 pregnant women enrolled at hospitals in 18 countries found that, compared with uninfected pregnant women, those with COVID-19 are at higher risk for severe illness, death, pregnancy complications, and preterm birth. Those results underscore the importance of including pregnant women in priority groups for COVID-19 vaccines and limiting their exposure to ill people, says corresponding author Aris Papageorghiou, a fetal medicine specialist at the University of Oxford.
Those with COVID-19 had a 76% greater chance of pregnancy-induced high blood pressure, known as preeclampsia or eclampsia. They were three times as likely to have a severe infection and five times as likely to be admitted to an intensive care unit, Papageorghiou’s team reports today in JAMA Pediatrics. Eleven women with COVID-19 died, compared with just one woman in the uninfected group.
The study also linked COVID-19 to a 60% to 97% increased rate of preterm birth, and— in infected women with a fever and shortness of breath—to a fivefold increase in neonatal complications such as immature lungs, brain damage, and eye disorders. About 13% of babies tested positive for the virus, and cesarean delivery was linked to a higher risk of transmission. Breastfeeding didn’t appear to transmit the virus—a small bit of good news.
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