Pregnant Women and Coronavirus: Don’t Stress, But Take Protective Measures

Do pregnant women have more to fear from the coronavirus (COVID-19) than the average, healthy adult? Public health officials and doctors say that there are no indications — at this time — that COVID-19 affects the fetus or the health of a newborn.

Preliminary data has not found that pregnant women are at higher risk of developing serious illness from COVID-19. However, pregnancy diminishes a woman’s immune system – and that may put them at a higher risk level.

“With viruses from the same family as COVID-19, and other viral respiratory infections, such as influenza,” pregnant women have had a higher risk of getting sick, states the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Ellen Schwartzbard, M.D., an obstetrician and gynecologist with Baptist Health Medical Group, is telling her pregnant patients that they don’t need to be overly stressed about the coronavirus. But they do need to take the normal precautions against infection “up a notch” because of their compromised immune systems.

“We are not seeing pregnant women get sick from coronavirus at a more severe rate, but I am recommending to my patients to take those CDC precautionary measures to an additional degree,” says Dr. Schwartzbard.

Here’s more from Dr. Schwartzbard on pregnancy and COVID-19.

Question: What are you telling your patients who are worried about the coronavirus? What is your primary message to them?

Dr. Schwartzbard: We do know that a pregnant woman’s immune system is generally suppressed. We know that with other types of viruses, like influenza (the flu), pregnant women are at higher risk for getting sick. So, we are more concerned about how a pregnant woman might respond with the coronavirus — for sure. That’s what I tell patients. And I tell them to take the general (CDC) precautionary measures. And, if necessary, take extra precautions.”

Question: Public health officials say that it’s important for pregnant women to protect themselves from illnesses. At this time, it does not seem like they are at a higher risk of getting severe illness from COVID-19, they say.  Do you agree?

Dr. Schwartzbard: “The very minimal data that has come out — China’s preliminary study — has not seen anything more concerning with pregnant women. That is reassuring. But I definitely tell my pregnant patients: Take all of those CDC precautions — the social distancing, washing your hands, staying away from anybody who might be sick — and all of the recommendations that is given to the general population. And then try to take them up a notch.”

Question: What if a pregnant woman starts to feel symptoms associated with COVID-19, such as a fever and cough?

Dr. Schwartzbard: “There’s a lot of patients who are not going to want to necessarily go to an emergency room setting to get that test done. If the symptoms are relatively mild, I may recommend that they stay home and, if they’re able, to just treat their symptoms. If they symptoms are slightly more serious, they should call their doctor before coming in. As far as coming in and being tested, that will be assessed by their healthcare professional.”

Question: Pregnant women these days are probably feeling more stress and anxiety over the coronavirus than the average person. What would you say to them to allay any fears they may have?

Dr. Schwartzbard: “Most of the data so far shows that COVID-19 does not produce harmful effects on the fetus. If you’re pregnant and you get sick, we have some concerns. But there doesn’t seem to be reason for significant concern at this time. That should be reassuring. Even non-pregnant people are walking around very anxious and stressed. So, if you’re pregnant, just do the best that you can to stay healthy. Reach out to the folks in your normal support system. And stay away from the constant news coverage.”

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With internationally renowned centers of excellence, 12 hospitals, more than 27,000 employees, 4,000 physicians and 200 outpatient centers, urgent care facilities and physician practices spanning across Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties, Baptist Health is an anchor institution of the South Florida communities we serve.

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