Pregnant women with COVID-19 face increased chances of stillbirth compared to uninfected women, a risk that has quadrupled since the introduction of the delta variant, according to new government data.
The Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report Friday that examined 1.2 million births in 736 hospitals nationwide from March 2020 to September 2021.
Overall, stillbirths were rare and amounted to 8,154 births. But researchers found that about 1 in 80 births in women with COVID-19 ended in a stillbirth. Among those uninfected, this was 1 in 155.
Among COVID-19 patients, stillbirths were more common in people with chronic high blood pressure and other complications, including in intensive care units or on ventilators.
“These results highlight the importance of COVID-19 prevention strategies, including vaccinations before or during pregnancy,” said CDC researcher Carla DeSisto et al.
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There is no information on how many people were vaccinated against COVID-19, although the authors noted that the vaccination rate for pregnant women in the United States after the appearance of the delta this summer was 30%.
Pregnant people with COVID-19 are more likely than others to develop severe, even fatal illness and face an increased risk of premature birth and other complications. Previous studies on stillbirths and COVID-19 have produced mixed results, but the report heightens concerns about obstetricians and anecdotal evidence.
Although the absolute risk of stillbirth is low, pregnant women should not underestimate the dangers of COVID-19, said Dr Mark Turrentine, professor at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. He helped write the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists guidelines for vaccination against COVID-19 during pregnancy.
“What’s really sad is that we have 10 months of a vaccine that has proven to be very effective and we just can’t convince people to take advantage of it,” Turrentin said.
Some experts speculate that the virus can cause inflammation of the placenta or other abnormalities that could harm the fetus.
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Dr. Joseph Biggio, a high-risk pregnancy specialist at Ochsner Health in New Orleans, said the study did not prove COVID-19 caused stillbirth. He said that perhaps some of the women were so seriously ill that doctors trying to keep them alive “could not intervene in the protection of the fetus they knew was in trouble.”
The researchers relied on medical records and noted that they were unable to determine if the COVID-19 diagnoses listed at the time of delivery were from current or past infections.
Stillbirth is generally more common among blacks, pregnant women over 35, or those who smoke tobacco during pregnancy.
The study did not include pregnancy outcomes by race, and the authors said they plan to explore this area in future studies, “because COVID-19 disproportionately affected many racial and ethnic minority groups, putting them at greater risk of getting sick and dying.” ‘