Must-read info if you're currently pregnant or know someone who is.

By Claire Gillespie
Updated June 26, 2020
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It’s official: everyone is panicking about the new coronavirus, COVID-19. This is despite assertions from government agencies and experts that the general risk to the public is low and assurance from doctors that the majority of people who contract the virus have very mild symptoms. 

Of course, certain people are more vulnerable than others. The World Health Organization says older people and those with pre-existing health conditions are at the greatest risk of becoming seriously ill with the virus. When it comes to pregnant women, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) clarified this week that expectant moms "might be at an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19" compared with women who are not pregnant. 

There's been a dearth of  information from published scientific reports about the susceptibility of pregnant women to the new coronavirus. 

“Understanding the course of infection in pregnant women is a very important research question that needs to be answered,” infectious disease expert Amesh A. Adalja, MD, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told Health in early March. “Pregnant women should also be included in antiviral trials and vaccine trials.”

However, as time passes, we're learning more. A study released this week in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report involving more than 326,000 women of childbearing age who tested positive for COVID-19 found that pregnant women were more likely to be hospitalized, but they were no more likely to die from the illness than other women. 

Of course, the biggest concern to a pregnant woman may be whether her unborn child is at risk. If she contracts the virus, can she pass it to the fetus? 

To date, the evidence has been quite limited. (One study in JAMA Pediatrics suggests mom-to-baby transmission may be possible sometime in and around the time of delivery, while two recent case reports in JAMA raise questions about whether this can happen in utero.)

Dr. Adalja said that it’s more likely that the virus would be passed to a baby after birth, from close contact with a person carrying the virus. 

Currently there isn’t an approved vaccine to prevent the coronavirus; vaccines have been developed and are currently being tested, but the best-case scenario is that a vaccine won't be available until the end of 2020 or early 2021, according to the nation's top infectious disease, Anthony Fauci, MD, told a House committee on Tuesday, per USA Today. So medical advice focuses on preventative measures to try to stop the virus from spreading. 

“The info and advice we give pregnant women is the same as it is for the general population,” Rebecca C. Brightman, MD, assistant clinical professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive medicine at The Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, tells Health

The most important thing pregnant woman can do to protect themselves from the virus is to avoid contact with anyone who has symptoms of the flu or an upper respiratory infection, says Dr. Brightman. If you don’t feel well, stay at home. And if respiratory symptoms develop (such as a nasal congestion, a runny nose, sneezing, or a cough), make sure you see a doctor. 

“All individuals—pregnant or not—should practice good hand-washing measures, namely washing regular with soap and using hand sanitizers,” says Dr. Brightman. “Cover your mouth or nose when you sneeze, using your sleeve or a tissue, and avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.”

The information in this story is accurate as of press time. However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, it's possible that some data have changed since publication. While Health is trying to keep our stories as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations for their own communities by using the CDC, WHO, and their local public health department as resources.

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