What Every Pregnant Woman Should Know About Coronavirus
No matter where you live, it’s impossible to avoid the constant chatter about coronavirus right now. The only thing that seems more contagious than coronavirus itself is the spread of information—and misinformation. While it’s nerve-wracking for everyone, that’s especially true for pregnant women, who need to keep themselves and their baby safe. To help you do just that, here is everything you need to know about coronavirus in pregnancy.
What Is Coronavirus?
The 2019 novel coronavirus, known as COVID-19, is a member of the coronavirus family, explains G. Thomas Ruiz, MD, ob-gyn lead at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California. There are six other known coronaviruses, four of which cause a common cold, and two of which caused much more dangerous infections. Those were known as SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) in 2002 to 2003, and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) in 2012.
Coronavirus is contagious, and the level of how easily it’s transmitted is believed to be like that of a common cold. There are a few different ways it can be contracted. “It’s thought to mainly spread from person to person,” says Andres Romero, MD, an infectious disease specialist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California. “It could also spread after touching a surface with the virus on it and touching your face without proper hand hygiene.”
However, according to the Centers for Diease Control and Prevention (CDC), the latter is an unlikely mode of transmission. As experts learn more, they believe the most likely way to spread COVID-19 is through close person to person contact, sometimes through airbone transmission and less likely through surfaces.
Risks of Coronavirus in Pregnancy
Right now there isn’t enough data to estimate the likelihood of contracting coronavirus while pregnant, but “at this point there is no information to suggest that a woman in pregnancy is any more likely to contract the virus than a nonpregnant individual,” Ruiz says.
Even if a mom-to-be were to contract coronavirus, chances are, she wouldn’t become severely ill. COVID-19 appears to pose the greatest risk to the elderly and those with underlying health conditions like cancer, heart disease and diabetes. “Because most pregnant women are generally healthy without chronic medical conditions, if a pregnant woman contracts the disease, it would likely be mild, meaning there would be a full recovery,” Ruiz says.
A COVID-19 infection can vary in severity from mild respiratory symptoms to severe distress and death, Romero says, but the majority of reported cases have been mild and don’t require hospitalization, he assures.
As for how it might impact baby? “We have little information so far on how COVID-19 affects pregnancies and the fetus,” Ruiz says. In a small case series of nine women from China, as well as another study of 38 women from China, all of whom tested positive for COVID-19, there were no cases of premature birth and no evidence of transmission of the virus from mother to fetus. “Outcomes in pregnant women were no different than in non-pregnant women,” he says.
However, there have also been recent case reports of newborns screening positive for virus-specific antibodies, suggesting thit may be possible for moms-to-be to pass the virus onto their babies, either through the placenta, direct contact during birth or through breast milk. The newborns in these studies tested negative for COVID-19 through throat swabs; however, the presence of antibodies—in particular IgM, which cannot cross the placenta due to their size—suggest the infants could have been exposed in-utero.
Additional limited data suggests women who are infected with COVID-19 may be at a slightly higher risk of preterm birth, however it’s unclear if those cases of preterm birth were due to a COVID-19 infection or other pregnancy-related complications. Ruiz points out that pregnancy loss (including miscarriage and stillbirth) were seen more than normal with other types of coronavirus infections like SARS and MERS.
One vert recent study also suggested pregnant women who develop COVID-19 may be able to pass antibodies to their babies.
Coronavirus symptoms and signs are similar to those you’d have if you came down with a cold or flu: Fever and cough. “Some patients have had muscle aches (much like the flu), fatigue or sore throat,” Ruiz says. “In a report from China of more than 1,000 patients, nasal congestion was seen in only 1 out of every 20 patients. In more severe cases shortness of breath may be experienced.”
You may not experience symptoms of a COVID-19 infection right away, though. That’s because the coronavirus incubation period—meaning the time between catching the virus and when symptoms set in—is between one to 14 days, and an average five days, according to Romero.
If you suspect that you’ve contracted coronavirus, let your doctor know right away. Be sure to call before heading to their office for care—this way if you are in fact infected, you avoid putting others in the waiting room at risk. Your doctor will be able to determine whether your symptoms call for COVID-19 testing and advise you on next steps. “Testing is especially recommended for those who are sick with fever, cough or difficulty breathing, and who have been in close contact with a person known to have coronavirus, or live in or have recently traveled from an area with ongoing spread of coronavirus,” Ruiz says.
In the meantime, Ruiz says, if you think you might be infected, you should quarantine yourself at home and avoid going to public places, including work, and using public transportation. If you develop more serious symptoms such as shortness of breath, head to the ER.
How to Treat Coronavirus in Pregnancy
Previously, according to Ruiz, treatment has been centered around management of the symptoms. He generally advises acetaminophen (Tylenol) for fevers, cough drops and cough syrups for thinning out mucus and antihistamines or Sudafed for nasal congestion, but always talk to your doctor before taking any medication during pregnancy.
The FDA has approved remdesivir to treat COVID-19. Plus, vaccines are being rolled out worldwide.
If you do contract coronavirus, the infection will likely resolve pretty quickly. According to Ruiz, mild cases are thought to last about two weeks, though more severe cases could last longer. “Fortunately, the vast majority of cases are mild,” he says.
“The best way of preventing infection is avoiding exposure to the virus,” Romero says. That means social distancing, not touching your face with your hands and washing your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, he says. Regular use of alcohol-based hand sanitizer is also helpful in killing off any nasty germs. The CDC is now also recommending that people wear nonmedical cloth masks when out in a public setting where social distancing practices may be hard to maintain, such as in a grocery store or pharmacy. Don’t have one at home? The CDC offers instructions for how to make your own.
Finally, be careful where you are getting your information, Ruiz cautions. Make sure the recommendations you’re following are coming from a healthcare professional, the CDC or your local public health office. “There’s a lot of misinformation spread through social media, which may try to sell you unproven cures or treatments, or materials that won’t protect you from getting the illness,” Ruiz says. “Above all, stay calm, stay informed (from reliable sources) and stay prepared by exercising the infection precautions like hand washing noted above.”
G. Thomas Ruiz, MD, is the lead ob-gyn at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California. He earned his medical degree from UC Irvine School of Medicine and has been practicing medicine in Orange County since 1993.
Andres Romero, MD, is an infectious disease specialist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California. He received his medical degree from Greater College of Our Lady of the Rosary in 2009.
Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.