The U.S. is currently in the midst of an active flu season, and while pregnant women have long been warned about the potential risks of contracting the influenza virus, the question of how dangerous the novel coronavirus may be has started to arise. Because COVID-19 is so new to health officials, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) currently does not have information from published scientific reports about the susceptibility of pregnant women to the virus.
“Pregnant women experience immunologic and physiologic changes which might make them more susceptible to viral respiratory infections, including COVID-19,” the health agency warns. “Pregnant women might also be at risk for severe illness, morbidity, or mortality compared to the general population as observed in cases of other related coronavirus infections [including severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) and Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV)] and other viral respiratory infections, such as influenza during pregnancy.”
The health agency said that while risk to the American public remains low at this time, pregnant women should continue to engage in usual preventative actions to avoid infection, such as washing hands often and avoiding contact with people who are sick. It also advises health facilities to isolated pregnant women who are infected with COVID-19 from other patients.
Symptoms of the coronavirus include cough, shortness of breath and fever, the last of which can cause issues for pregnant women. Those who develop high fever during the first trimester of pregnancy can be at an increased risk for certain birth defects, according to the CDC.
“We do not have information on information on adverse pregnancy outcomes in pregnant women with COVID-19,” the CDC said. “Pregnancy loss, including miscarriage and stillbirth, has been observed in cases of infection with other related coronaviruses [SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV] during pregnancy.”
There have also been several reports out of China of possible vertical transmission between an infected mother and infant during childbirth, but they have since been disputed. The CDC said this remains an unknown factor, but that in a small case series, the virus was not detected in samples of amniotic fluid or breastmilk. There is also limited data on whether infants born to mothers with COVID-19 are at risk for adverse or long-term health effects.
Regardless, infants born to mothers with confirmed COVID-19 should be isolated, according to the CDC.
What is known, is that the COVID-19 virus is spread from person to person mainly via respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Women who are diagnosed with COVID-19 are encouraged to take “all possible precautions” to avoid spreading the virus to her infant, including washing hands and wearing a face mask if possible while breastfeeding, according to the CDC.