Risks of COVID-19 in pregnancy – researchers share findings

pregnant woman using phone

Pregnant women who have been hospitalised with COVID-19 are less likely to manifest common virus symptoms like fever or muscle pain than non-pregnant women of the same age, and may be at an increased risk of intensive care admission, an international study into the impacts of COVID on pregnancy has found.

The living systematic review, which was a collaboration between experts from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and BHP founder-member the University of Birmingham analysed existing evidence from 77 studies in order to answer a series of research questions on how the virus affects women during and after pregnancy. Overall, the study analysed the outcomes of 11,432 pregnant and recently pregnant women from the USA, Europe, Central and South-East Asia and South America.

The study found that as well as being less likely to show symptoms, pregnant women who test positive for the SARS-COV2 virus may be at an increased risk of admission to intensive care units, and more likely to experience pre-term birth than similar aged non-pregnant women. Results also showed that a quarter of babies born to mothers with the virus were admitted to neonatal units, but importantly, stillbirth and newborn fatality rates were low.

Experts also identified a range of maternal risk factors associated with developing severe COVID-19 which included being older, being overweight or having pre-existing conditions like hypertension or diabetes which could increase the severity of the virus in these women and raise the likelihood of admission to intensive care or the need for ventilation. 

Professor Shakila Thangaratinam, lead author from the WHO Collaborating Centre for Global Women’s Health at the Institute of Metabolism and Systems Research, University of Birmingham said: “Our study has demonstrated a need for increased awareness for health care professionals around the symptoms and effects of COVID-19 on pregnant and recently pregnant women, and early identification of pregnant women with risk factors. We shall be updating our findings on a regular basis as new evidence emerge.”

The full study, ‘Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in pregnancy: A living systematic review on clinical manifestations, risk factors, maternal and perinatal outcomes’ was published in the BMJ.

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