New study suggests pregnant women hospitalized for COVID-19 do not face increased risk of death

Pregnant women who are hospitalized with COVID-19 and viral pneumonia are less likely than non-pregnant women to die from these infections, according to a new study by researchers with The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) and the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM).

The study was published today in Annals of Internal Medicine.

The study examined medical records from nearly 1,100 pregnant patients and more than 9,800 non-pregnant women ages 15 to 45 who were hospitalized with COVID-19 and pneumonia. Less than 1% of the pregnant patients died from COVID-19 compared to 3.5% of non-pregnant patients, according to the study findings.

Currently, the Centers for Diseases and Control and Prevention (CDC) say pregnant women are at a high risk of developing severe complications from COVID-19.

“We were surprised when we first analyzed the data,” said Beth Pineles, MD, PhD, a maternal-fetal medicine fellow in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences with McGovern Medical School at UTHealth and first author of the study. “We had expected to confirm the results of the CDC and other U.S. researchers showing that pregnancy increases the risk for dying from COVID-19. However, once we compared our results to data from the UK and reviewed the CDC reports more carefully, we found confirmation that our results were likely to represent the true risks of COVID-19 in these populations, despite the limitation of pregnant women being younger and healthier than non-pregnant women.”

Researchers found that pregnant patients were more likely to be younger and have fewer health conditions, including diabetes, obesity, hypertension, and chronic lung disease, compared to the non-pregnant patients. Given the small number of deaths seen in the study, researchers were unable to determine whether these conditions significantly affected the difference in mortality risk between pregnant and non-pregnant patients.

“At the start of the pandemic, the existing data showed that pregnant women would face severe complications if they contracted the virus,” said Jacqueline Parchem, MD, assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences with McGovern Medical School at UTHealth and co-author on the study. “While pregnant women are certainly susceptible to severe complications of COVID-19 including death, we view these data has reassuring that the absolute risk of death is low.”

Pineles and Parchem still want to encourage pregnant women to wear their mask and get their COVID-19 shot. The risk of getting severely ill or dying is low, but it is still much higher than for healthy pregnant women without COVID-19.

“I think this is reassuring news for women who are pregnant and worried about getting infected with COVID-19 as new variants emerge,” said Anthony Harris, MD, MPH, professor of epidemiology & public health at UMSOM and senior and corresponding author of the study.

Additional UMSOM authors include Katherine Goodman, JD, PhD; Lisa Pineles, MA; Lyndsay O’Hara, PhD; Gita Nadimpalli, MD, MPH; Laurence Magder, PhD; and Jonathan Baghdadi, MD, PhD.

Release adapted from UMSOM.

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