COVID-19 and pregnancy: What you need to know

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The key concern for pregnant women becoming infected, as Taylor notes, is that COVID-19 can lead to pneumonia. (Getty Images)

The era of COVID-19 is stressful for everyone, and pregnant women in particular are among those who are especially anxious about contracting the novel coronavirus. 

Perhaps what makes the potential to become ill so worrying is that there are so many unknowns. 

“If a pregnant woman were to get an infection with COVID-19, we do not know the impact on her health nor the fetus,” Dr. Beth Taylor of Vancouver’s Olive Fertility Centre tells Yahoo Canada. “It is likely not a concern for the fetus, based on the experience of countries like China. It can cause a severe pneumonia in pregnant woman in later pregnancy.”

Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s public health officer, noted at a recent briefing that “it doesn’t seem that pregnant women are more susceptible to being infected.”

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It doesn’t seem that it is transmitted to the fetus at this point. So that is some of the data that we have been following,” she explained. “Obviously, these are very small numbers.” 

With other viruses like influenza, pregnant women can become more sick than non-pregnant women. However, so far, no studies have shown this to be the case with COVID-19, according to B.C. Women’s Hospital and Health Centre. 

The key concern for pregnant women becoming infected, as Taylor notes, is that COVID-19 can lead to pneumonia. This is an “important cause” of maternal morbidity and mortality, reports the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada. 

“Due to physiologic changes that occur in pregnancy, when compared with their non-pregnant counterparts, pregnant women with lower respiratory tract infections often experience worse outcomes, including higher rates of hospital and intensive care unit admission,” the SOGC reports.

Here’s the good news: as of March 13, when the SOGC issued its statement, there have been more than 60 cases of pregnant women with confirmed COVID-19 in China, and the vast majority of these women have had mild to moderate pneumonia. 

“The pregnancy outcomes of the reported cases have been largely good,” with preterm labour being the most commonly reported adverse pregnancy outcomes, the SOGC says.

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There has only been one case of severe maternal illness secondary to COVID-19 reported. This 31-year-old woman was infected at 34 weeks gestation and went on to experience severe respiratory compromise and multi-organ dysfunction requiring oxygenation. One stillbirth has been reported in the case of severe maternal illness. 

“Given the limited data, it is too early to determine if higher rates of adverse outcomes are expected in pregnant women infected with COVID-19,” the SOGC says. “There has been no evidence of vertical (mother-to-infant) transmission found in any cases of…COVID-19.”

To stay healthy, pregnant women will want to follow public health guidelines, which are updated often. 

These measures currently include frequent and proper hand-washing, physical and social distancing, and staying home.

“Do not touch your face, eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands,” says the B.C. Centre for Disease Control. “Regularly clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces. Do not share food, drinks, utensils.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces daily. These include tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets, and sinks.

If surfaces are dirty, clean them with detergent or soap and water prior to disinfection.

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