The recent COVID pandemic has created an abundance of new statistics and facts that scientists and medical professionals have been scrambling to collect and analyze. One of these startling new statistics has to do with pregnant mothers who catch the COVID virus, and the effect the illness has on their unborn child and themselves. While the effects of viruses on pregnant women is generally well-documented, COVID has surprised doctors and researchers in exactly the ways in which it seems to be affecting moms-to-be.
How is COVID affecting pregnancies?
In a recent article, Washington Post describes the medical detriments that COVID can have specifically on pregnant women. It seems that while COVID seems to show no effect on fertility, when a pregnant woman becomes infected with the virus, the risk of preeclampsia and abnormal placenta (along with other serious complications) increase significantly.
This may seem odd, as COVID used to be widely considered a respiratory illness – why would it then affect reproductive organs? The answer may lie in the cardiovascular system, which takes on great strain and changes when the body becomes pregnant. Per the article:
The coronavirus, it turns out, can have a profound impact on that same system. The virus attaches itself to what are known as ACE2 receptors involved in regulating blood pressure and inflammation, and throughout the pandemic, doctors have found that in some patients, the disease can lead to hundreds of microclots in blood vessels, all of which can have a range of effects on the mother and developing baby.
Doctors also saw an increase in stillbirths from infected mothers, who seemed to lose their child a few weeks after contracting the virus. This had to do with the placenta (an organ during pregnancy meant to provide the fetus with nutrients and oxygen) becoming injured, and no longer able to provide the life-giving blood that the infant requires.
Instances of preeclampsia were higher as well with COVID infected pregnant women. The Post detailed that:
Preeclampsia, a leading cause of maternal death across the globe, usually begins with small signs like high blood pressure, bubbly urine or vision changes but can progress rapidly to send a person’s entire body into crisis. It typically occurs midway through pregnancy, after about the 20th week, in roughly 2 to 6 percent of pregnant people in the United States.
It was recorded during the pandemic that pregnant women who were infected with the virus saw a 60% increase in risk of suffering preeclampsia, as well as being more likely to suffer from complications, “ranging from preterm birth and infection, to dying within six weeks of the pregnancy ending.”
What other viruses and infections affect pregnancies?
COVID serves as a necessary reminder of how vulnerable pregnant women are to illnesses, viruses, and infections. Some of them are common and would not be so detrimental in the average, nonpregnant person, but can be life-altering to a mother-to-be and her baby.
These illnesses include:
- Group B streptococcus. Group B streptococcus (GBS) is the most common cause of life-threatening infections for both the mother and the newborn. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Newborns are at increased risk for GBS disease if their mother tests positive for the bacteria late in pregnancy. 2 to 3 in every 50 babies (4–6%) who develop GBS disease die.” Not only that, but 25% of pregnant women carry GBS bacteria in their body.
- Urinary tract infections. As a result of urinary tract infections (UTI), complications such as premature labor and pyelonephritis (kidney infection) may occur. In 10% -15% of pregnant women, the UTI is asymptomatic. Early urine tests are done early in the pregnancy to prevent or treat a UTI before it can cause complications.
- Chicken pox. Chicken pox (varicella) is a highly infectious viral infection that presents with itchy, blister-like rash. We may think of this as being an infection we get as children, but it can infect anyone, and in a pregnant woman, can cause severe health risks. The CDC reports:
If chickenpox develops during the first 20 weeks of pregnancy — particularly between weeks eight and 20 — the baby faces a slight risk of a rare group of serious birth defects known as congenital varicella syndrome. A baby who has congenital varicella syndrome might develop skin scarring, and eye, brain, limb and gastrointestinal abnormalities. If chickenpox develops during the few days before you deliver to 48 hours postpartum, the baby might be born with a potentially life-threatening infection called neonatal varicella.
- Zika virus. Some of us may remember the Zika virus when it became popularly known and spread in 2016. Primarily spread through mosquitoes (though it can also be spread through unprotected sex), the Zika virus can be passed from the pregnant mother to her unborn child during pregnancy. It can lead to complications and birth defects such as microcephaly and other severe brain defects. There is no known vaccine or treatment for the Zika virus.
- Listeria. Listeria is the third leading cause of death from food-borne illnesses in the United States. Pregnant women and newborns are at a far greater risk of the infection caused by listeria, called listeriosis. Pregnant women can suffer from complications such as miscarriages, stillbirths, and preterm labor. Pregnant women can pass the infection onto their fetus, leading to serious illnesses or even death for their child.
- Toxoplasmosis. Toxoplasmosis is the leading cause of foodborne illnesses in the United States. While many people have the Toxoplasma parasite, our immune systems are strong enough to prevent the parasite from causing any symptoms and preventing us from becoming sick. In pregnant women (and people with compromised immune systems), however, this parasite can lead to some devastating illnesses. The infection can be passed to the fetus if the pregnant woman is infected shortly before or during the pregnancy. The CDC reports that “most infected infants do not have symptoms at birth but can develop serious symptoms later in life, such as blindness or mental disability. Occasionally, infected newborns have serious eye or brain damage at birth.”
As much as it is a joy and life-fulfillment for many women to become pregnant, it is critical to know the risks that present themselves to the compromised immune system that comes with pregnancy. Talk to your doctor or healthcare provider about how to prevent and treat any infections or illnesses that you are worried about getting, or that you have already. Blood and urine screenings are usually done at the beginning of the pregnancy and throughout to ensure that you have a safe delivery and a healthy newborn. If you think that your healthcare provider has neglected you to a point that you have suffered one of the many illnesses that pregnant women are susceptible to, you should seek out the advice of a Memphis medical malpractice attorney as soon as possible.
At Bailey & Greer, PLLC, we want pregnant women to be as safe and as healthy as possible. There is perhaps no greater tragedy than losing a child during this time of hope and expectant joy. When such a tragedy occurs due to the neglect of a medical practitioner, we are here to diligently fight for the woman and her family who should have a new and healthy infant in her arms. If you think that your infant’s illness or death was caused by the medical professionals in charge of your pregnancy, call our knowledgeable and dedicated team at 901-475-7434 or use our contact page. We have compassionate and determined attorneys who can ensure that you receive the compensation you deserve. With offices in Memphis and Jackson, we are proud to serve families throughout West Tennessee.
Since graduating magna cum laude in 2005 from the University of Memphis School of Law, Thomas has helped make a difference in the lives of victims of serious personal injury, wrongful death, and professional negligence. Thomas has extensive trial experience in both state and federal court. Among other victories in the courtroom, Thomas obtained several impressive jury verdicts and settlements
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