A B.C. professor says it’s important for women thinking of getting pregnant during the pandemic to be careful, but that the risks are not high enough to warrant holding off.
Dr. Deborah Money, a professor of obstetrics and gynaecology and medicine at the University of B.C.’s School of Population and Public Health, said that two recent studies out of the U.S. Centre for Disease Control can help provide guidance for families north of the border.
“It’s really important information but we have to take it into context,” Money told Black Press Media by phone. “The overall risk for pregnant women who get COVID-19 infection to have a serious problem is very low… but it is important to recognize that this data suggests there may be a slight increased risk of complications for pregnant women versus women who are not pregnant.”
Money’s statements are based on two U.S. studies released in recent days. The first, released Nov. 6, looked at 400,000 women aged 15 to 44 years old with symptomatic cases of COVID-19. An analysis of the data found that “intensive care unit admission, invasive ventilation, extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, and death were more likely in pregnant women than in non-pregnant women.” Further, researcher found that pregnant women between 35 and 44 years old with COVID-19 were “nearly four times as likely to require invasive ventilation and twice as likely to die than were non-pregnant women of the same age.”
A second study from the U.S. CDC looked at 3,912 infants born to mothers with COVID-19. Researchers found that 12.9 per cent of these babies were born preterm, defined as earlier than 37 weeks gestation, compared to 10.2 per cent of the general population. Of 610 babies who were tested for COVID-19, 2.6 per cent were positive for the virus and born primary to women infected at the time of delivery.
Among 3,912 infants with known gestational age born to women with SARS-CoV-2 infection, 12.9% were preterm (<37 weeks), higher than a national estimate of 10.2%. Among 610 (21.3%) infants with testing results, 2.6% had positive SARS-CoV-2 results, primarily those born to women with infection at delivery. Studies are also underway in B.C. with the Canadian COVID-19 In Pregnancy Surveillance (CANCOVID-Preg), which is seeking to collect information from prenatal and maternity care experts about the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In B.C., an Abbotsford mother is in an induced coma after giving birth to a baby boy after contracting COVID-19. Gill McIntosh first began to feel sick at the start of November and sought medical attention after she took a turn for the worse, becoming nauseated and unable to eat. As of Sunday (Nov. 15), McIntosh is reported to be in stable condition but remains on a ventilator.
But while the higher risks of pregnancy during the pandemic could be a reason for women to consult with their doctors, Money said that the woman at highest risk – older, with pre-existing conditions like asthma, obesity or diabetes – should already be taking extra precautions, whether or not they were planning to get pregnant.
“We’re not currently recommending they hold back on becoming pregnant, but we’re certainly advising that pregnant women be particularly adherent to the recommendations around physical distancing, masking, hand washing and limiting contacts,” she said.
Something that women’s health experts are particularly concerned with is a trend of pregnant women being wary of visiting health-care professionals for fear of being exposed to the virus.
“That has potential risks for the pregnancy because of the inability to monitor properly,” Money said. For women who do develop COVID-19 while pregnant, Money said they need to be “very watchful” of symptoms, like shortness of breath and chest paint, worsening.
“They must be assessed. They shouldn’t be fearful and staying home [from appointments].”
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