By Shivika Singh | Contributor
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The coronavirus pandemic has affected millions of people worldwide and pregnant women were no exception. The outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic put pregnant women in the vulnerable population group, meaning they had to shield throughout lockdown. This was because it was assumed they had a higher risk of suffering from severe illness and high morbidity rates if they contracted COVID-19. Assumptions were made that it could be fatal for the foetus and cases of stillbirth or miscarriages may rise. However, these assumptions have been challenged by new research.
A study led by Imperial College and supported by Cardiff University, looked at the effect of COVID-19 on pregnant mothers and confirmed that no babies, examined in the study, died due to COVID-19 between January and August 2020. They also found there was no increase in the risk of stillbirth or low birth weight as a result of the mother’s having the virus during pregnancy.
This latest research looked at data from the USA and UK and included more than 4000 pregnant women with suspected or confirmed COVID-19.
Despite these promising conclusions that it does not affect stillbirth or low birth weight risk, it was concluded that women who had a positive test had a higher risk of premature birth. In the UK data, 12% of women with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 had a pre-term delivery which is 60% higher than the national average rate of 7.5%. While In the US data, 15.7% of women had a pre-term birth which is 57% higher than the US national average of 10%.
Cardiff University’s Centre for Trials Research (CTR) built the online database of women and also managed data and statistical analyses in the study.
Reflecting on the findings, Julia Townson, Senior Research Fellow responsible for delivery of the research at the CTR, said: “I am delighted that the Centre for Trials Research has been able to collaborate with Imperial College London on this important research. It has been a mammoth undertaking by the team, requiring a rapid build of the database and web page, as well as cleaning and analysing the data”.
At the same time, the proportion of babies born to mothers with confirmed COVID-19, and who subsequently tested positive for the SARS-Cov-2 virus was 2% in the UK study, and 1.8% in the US study. This suggests there is a very low risk of transmission from mother to child during development, suggesting the child is near-unaffected by the infection.
COVID-19 is never without risks. They reported that eight women participating in the UK study and four women in the US study died. It is important to note, the majority of women in the study had no pre-existing conditions such as diabetes or respiratory conditions such as asthma. Addressing this point, the study team said although these rates are higher than expected for women giving birth, they are similar to the expected death rates seen among adults with a confirmed COVID-19 infection. This suggests that pregnant women are not at a higher risk of death from COVID-19 than non-pregnant women.
As we come close to the return of normal life this research is hoped to calm many expecting mothers that they are of no higher risk to COVID-19 as a result of their pregnancy.