THURSDAY, Nov. 19, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- Pregnant women with COVID-19 have little risk of developing severe symptoms, as do their newborns, a new study finds.
In fact, 95% of these women have good outcomes, and just 3% of their babies test positive for COVID-19, researchers say.
"For 5% of COVID-19-positive pregnant women, however -- those who get very sick -- the risks to both mother and baby are significant," said study lead author Dr. Emily Adhikari, medical director of perinatal infectious diseases at Parkland Hospital in Dallas.
Pregnancy itself, however, does not appear to increase the odds for COVID complications, she said.
"Most women with asymptomatic or mild infection will be relieved to know that their babies are unlikely to be affected by the virus," Adhikari said.
"When studying all pregnant women with COVID-19 infection, both those needing and not needing hospitalization, we are able to identify that the risks to the mothers are similar to those of the general population," she added.
At the start of the pandemic, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention thought the risk for pregnant women was greater than for others. But the new findings should reassure pregnant women that their risk is in line with other groups, researchers said.
"The initial reports from the CDC were very frightening, but it may not be as bad as it seemed to be initially," said Dr. Jennifer Wu, an ob-gyn at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. She was not part of the study, but reviewed the findings.
But more data is needed to know the risk to mother and baby of SARS-CoV-2 transmission, Wu said. Babies of infected mothers should be tested for COVID-19, she added.
For the study, Adhikari and her colleagues followed nearly 3,400 expectant women, 252 of whom had COVID-19.
Among those who tested positive, 95% had no or mild symptoms. Six women, however, developed severe or critical COVID pneumonia.
Comparing women with and without COVID-19 during pregnancy, researchers found it did not increase the risk of adverse outcomes — including preterm birth, preeclampsia, or cesarean delivery for abnormal fetal heart rate, Adhikari said.
Preterm birth was higher among women who had severe or critical illness, but it's hard to predict which patients will. Researchers said diabetes may boost the odds.
"Of the 252 infected women, the rate of hospitalization for COVID-19 was 6%, which is similar to the rate in the general population and lower than previous reports," Adhikari said. "Earlier studies had suggested that almost 20% of pregnant women with COVID-19 might require hospitalization."
The study found that being pregnant does not appear to increase the risk of severe illness for the majority of women, she added.
Even so, Wu said pregnant women -- like everyone else -- should wear masks and practice social distancing to minimize the odds of getting the virus.
"We do think that pregnant women have more risks with COVID-19 infections, so all precautions should be taken to avoid getting infected," Wu said.
The findings were published online Nov. 19 in the journal JAMA Network Open.
For more on COVID-19, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
SOURCES: Emily Adhikari, MD, medical director, perinatal infectious diseases, Parkland Hospital, Dallas, and assistant professor, obstetrics and gynecology, UT Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas; Jennifer Wu, MD, obstetrician-gynecologist, Lenox Hill Hospital, New York City; JAMA Network Open, online, Nov. 19, 2020