Coronavirus and Pregnancy: What to Know (Updated)

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Healthy Matters

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COVID-19 continues to generate news worldwide as it spreads, but what should pregnant women know? Are there any specific risks for pregnancies? How to manage them?  


To know more, here is an exclusive interview with Dr. Zara Chan 陳駱靈岫, a gynaecologist and obstetrician in Hong Kong who recently had her third baby, and follows expectant mothers on a daily basis in these unusual times.


What are the symptoms?

As reported by CDC and WHO, common symptoms include: fever, cough and/or shortness of breath. More recently, there are reports from various hospital institutions that indicate some people can now be asymptomatic carriers in the early phases of infection. 


People of older age and/or with existing health issues are deemed at higher risk of developing severe symptoms from the new coronavirus. 


Severe infections can cause: 

  • Pneumonia and hospitalisation, 
  • Severe acute respiratory syndrome, 
  • Kidney failure, 
  • Death. 

You are particularly at risk if you have the above symptoms within 14 days after travelling from countries with community outbreaks (such as United States of America, UK, or South Korea), or have been in direct contact with someone showing these symptoms or confirmed to have COVID-19.


I am pregnant and have some of these symptoms. What should I do?

If you have any of the above symptoms, you should contact your OBGYN to let them know of your symptoms, travel and contact history. 


As it is also currently the flu season, your symptoms can be related to the common flu, not just COVID-19. If you do have any of the minor symptoms, your doctor will be able to prescribe you with appropriate medications. 


Universal precautions such as frequent hand washing, avoidance of mucosal contact with potentially contaminated hands (e.g. rubbing eyes and biting fingers) will help to reduce the chance of infection. Wearing a mask will reduce the risk of infected persons spreading to other people.  


Many clinics and hospitals now have restrictions on the treatment of people with contact or travel history, so it is wise to call ahead to your clinic.


Has any pregnant woman been infected with novel coronavirus so far?

To date, we no longer have a count on how many pregnant women have been infected with COVID- 19 worldwide, due to the sheer number of cases. Globally there are more than 2 million cases of COVID-19. What we do know is that there have been no deaths in babies or pregnant mothers. In Hong Kong, there is only one case involving a pregnant women and the pregnancy has been uncomplicated thus far. 


A recent study by a team of doctors in the USA has found that over 13% of pregnant women admitted for delivery were screened positive for COVID-19 despite not having any symptoms. Since most hospitals are not screening asymptomatic women, it is impossible for us to determine the number of infected pregnant women.


If a pregnant woman is infected, does she pass it to her baby?

No. It is not known that infected women will transmit the virus to their unborn baby. Placental studies from women infected with COVID-19 do not show evidence of transfer to the baby. Previous cases of newborns infected with the novel coronavirus are thought to arise from infections shortly after birth. There is until now no strong scientific evidence of in utero transmission.


If a newborn is infected, what are the risks?

There are reported cases of newborns infected with COVID-19. Children tend to have milder symptoms and no long-term sequelae. Children with coronavirus usually present with upper respiratory tract symptoms, diarrhoea or vomiting, and fever that resolve over days. 


Are there any increased risks for pregnant women?

Pregnant women are more prone to infections or more serious infections than non pregnant women. Based on previous experience with respiratory viruses, pregnant women at all trimesters are at risk of more complicated pregnancy outcomes (such as miscarriage, low birth weight, and preterm delivery) and hospitalisation if they contract the disease. They are also more likely to need intensive care than their non pregnant counterparts.

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What can pregnant women do to best prevent any infection risk?

It is the same as for non pregnant women.  

  • Avoid crowded areas. 
  • Wash hands frequently especially before eating, and avoid contact with eyes, nose, and mouth. 
  • Wearing a face mask will reduce the risk of infected persons spreading to you. 
  • Avoid sharing eating utensils and cups.

Is it safe to travel?

You can travel as long as you bear in mind the precautions above. However, one needs to be aware that airplanes can be an easy source of spread if an infected person is on the plane, due to the high number of people packed into a confined space. So at this time, only travel if you need to.


Are your patients very worried about coronavirus?

They are concerned but within reason. 


Any advice for pregnant women?

Be cautious but no need to worry excessively. Keep clean and practice hand hygiene with regular hand washing. Be in contact with your doctor in case of any symptoms or questions.

Dr. Zara Chan 陳駱靈岫 is a Specialist in Obstetrics and Gynaecology, practicing at OT&P Healthcare’s Woman and Child Clinic in Central. Dr. Chan is Canadian and completed her medical training at the Prince of Wales Hospital in Hong Kong. She received her specialist qualification from the Hong Kong College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and is a member of the UK Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. She was an honorary lecturer at The Chinese University of Hong Kong and was the president of the Midwives and Maternal-Child Caregivers Association.

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This article was independently written by Healthy Matters and is not sponsored. It is informative only and not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be relied upon for specific medical advice.

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