Pregnancy May Make Covid-19 More Severe

A new study suggests that pregnancy may increase the risk of severe COVID-19.

Pregnant women are more likely to need to be admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU) or on a ventilator than those who are not pregnant. However, according to this study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), pregnant women do not appear to have an increased risk of dying from the disease compared to non-pregnant women.

Previously, the CDC had said that there were “no data to suggest that COVID-19 affects pregnant women differently than others,” but the new study has led the agency to update its information on COVID-19 in pregnancy. The agency now says that “pregnant women may be at increased risk of serious disease from COVID-19 compared to non-pregnant women.”

The new study – one of the largest to date on COVID-19 in pregnancy – analyzed information from more than 8,200 pregnant women and 83,200 non-pregnant women in the U.S. ages 15 to 44 who tested positive for COVID-19 between January and June.

The study found that nearly one-third of pregnant COVID-19 women were hospitalized, compared to just 6 percent of non-pregnant women. Crucially, however, the study could not distinguish between pregnant women who were hospitalized for labor or other pregnancy-related procedures and those who were hospitalized for specific COVID-19-related problems. (In addition, the authors note that physicians may have a lower threshold for hospitalization of pregnant patients). In other words, hospitalization in such cases does not necessarily indicate a serious COVID-19 condition.

However, the study also found that pregnant women with COVID-19 were more likely to be admitted to the ICU and require mechanical ventilation than non-pregnant women. Specifically, 1.5 percent of pregnant women were admitted to the ICU compared to 0.9 percent of non-pregnant women, and 0.5 percent of pregnant women required mechanical ventilation compared to 0.3 percent of non-pregnant women. Both ICU admission and the need for a ventilator were “clear surrogate indicators of disease severity” for COVID-19, the authors said.

The risk of dying from COVID-19 was the same for pregnant and non-pregnant women – 0.2 percent for both groups.

“There’s a good news-bad news picture here,” said Dr. Dana Meaney-Delman, the CDC’s deputy event manager for COVID-19, in a new briefing Thursday (June 25). The good news is that pregnant women seem less likely to die from COVID-19, but the bad news is that they do have a higher risk of ICU admission and needing mechanical ventilation, she said.

This is very important information that pregnant women need to take precautions to protect themselves from COVID-19, Meaney-Delman said.

Still, the new study has some limitations – namely, it’s missing a lot of data. For example, for many of the women in both groups, doctors did not report whether they required ICU admission, needed a ventilator, or died. As a result, these results may be more common (in one or both groups) than the study estimates.

In addition, the study could not address how the risk of COVID-19 infection varies during a given pregnancy, or whether it affects infant outcomes. The authors called for more complete data to fully understand the risk of COVID-19 to pregnant women.

The authors say there is still enough data to inform pregnant women that they may develop a serious illness from COVID-19.

During the epidemic, the CDC recommends that pregnant women try to limit their interactions with other people and take precautions when they do, such as staying 6 feet (1.8 meters) away from others and wearing a face mask. Pregnant women should also attend prenatal care appointments and ensure that any medications they take have at least a 30-day supply.