April 26, 2021 -- Pregnant women who contracted COVID-19 last year were 20 times more likely to die than those who didn’t contract the virus, according to a new study published Thursday in the medical journal JAMA Pediatrics.
In addition, among the mothers who tested positive, about 11.5% of their babies also contracted the virus and were more likely to be born preterm.
"The No. 1 takeaway from the research is that pregnant women are no more likely to get COVID-19, but if they get it, they are more likely to become very ill and more likely to require ICU care, ventilation, or experience preterm birth and preeclampsia," Michael Gravett, one of the lead study authors and a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Washington School of Medicine, said in a statement.
The research team studied 2,130 pregnant women worldwide, involving more than 100 researchers from 43 maternity hospitals in 18 countries between April and August 2020. During the study, each woman affected by COVID-19 was compared with two uninfected pregnant women who gave birth during the same time span in the same hospital.
They found that women who contracted COVID-19 had higher risks for death, preterm birth, preeclampsia, intubation, and admission to an intensive care unit. Those who were obese or had hypertension or diabetes faced the greatest risks for severe disease. Those who had mild or asymptomatic COVID-19 didn’t have increased risks for ICU care, preterm birth or preeclampsia, but they still had a higher risk of death.
Babies who contracted COVID-19 usually had mild infections, the researchers found, but they may have been born preterm. Breastfeeding didn’t seem to be related to transmission of the virus, but delivery by Caesarean section was associated with an increased risk of transmission to babies, the study authors wrote.
Similar research findings this year have prompted public health officials to recommend COVID-19 vaccines to pregnant women to protect themselves and their babies, Gravett said in the statement.
“I would highly recommend that all pregnant women receive the COVID-19 vaccines,” he said.