How Does COVID-19 Affect Pregnant Women?

Since reports of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) came out of China in late 2019, the virus has spread worldwide. COVID-19, the disease that SARS-CoV-2 causes, has caused millions of illnesses and hundreds of thousands of deaths. The World Health Organization classified it as a global pandemic.

Groups at higher risk currently include older adults and people with other health conditions like diabetes, heart disease, or lung disease.

Current data does not show that pregnant women are at a higher risk for COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, the CDC still recommends monitoring. Taking preventive steps also can help them prevent infection.

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Are Pregnant Women at Risk for COVID-19?

There are no studies currently that indicate pregnant women are at greater risk for worse outcomes should they get infected, according to the CDC.

The main COVID-19 symptoms include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. COVID-19 also can lead to more severe illnesses, like pneumonia.

While the risk of COVID-19 is unknown, viruses from the same family, such as influenza, and other respiratory infections do put pregnant women at higher risk. Because of that, the CDC recommends monitoring.

Like many respiratory infections, some pregnant women have an increased risk of preterm birth should they develop a severe respiratory infection.

Can Pregnant Women Pass COVID-19 to Their Babies?

COVID-19 spreads between people in close contact through droplets. When an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks, they release droplets that can land in an uninfected person’s nose, mouth, or eyes. It also may spread if an uninfected person touches an infected surface and then touches his or her nose, mouth, or eyes.

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There is no conclusive evidence that a pregnant mother with COVID-19 can spread the disease to her unborn child. However, babies are at risk of person-to-person infection after birth. Some babies have tested positive for the coronavirus shortly after birth. It is unknown whether those babies became infected before or after birth.

There also is no conclusive evidence that the virus can pass through amniotic fluid or breast milk.

How Can Pregnant Women Prevent Infection?

No vaccine currently exists for COVID-19. However, seasonal flu is still active. Pregnant women should get a flu shot to try to prevent getting the flu, which can cause them health complications.

To try to prevent contracting COVID-19, pregnant women should follow CDC guidelines for the general public. That includes:

  • Regular handwashing: Use soap and water and scrub for at least 20 seconds. Do it especially before eating, after going to the bathroom, after touching common surfaces, and after coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose. If soap and water are unavailable, use hand sanitizer. The hand sanitizer should contain at least 60 percent alcohol, per CDC recommendations.
  • Avoid touching your nose, mouth, or eyes
  • Clean and sanitize commonly touched surfaces like tables, countertops, and doorknobs
  • Use a tissue when you cough or sneeze
  • Avoid close contact with people who are infected or showing symptoms like fever, cough, or shortness of breath
  • Practice social distancing by avoiding going out in the public, especially in crowded places like grocery stores or pharmacies
  • Wear a cloth face covering when out in public

It also is important for pregnant women to follow along with their normal pregnancy plans. They should stay well-hydrated, keep their prenatal appointments, monitor their temperature, and take any prescribed vitamins.

For more information on what steps you can take to best ensure a healthy pregnancy, call UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital at 1-866-696-2433 (1-866-MyMagee).

Sources
Frequently Asked Questions and Answers: Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) and Pregnancy. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

About Infectious Diseases

If you have a disease caused by bacteria, fungi, parasite, or virus, the UPMC Center for Care of Infectious Diseases can help. We have specialty units for prevention and treatment of HIV-AIDs, postsurgical and transplant infections, and illnesses caused by international travel. Our faculty research infectious diseases and participate in clinical trials to learn more and develop better treatment and prevention methods.