Pregnant individuals who contract COVID-19 face a higher risk of having a preterm birth, according to researchers at The University of California, San Francisco (UCSF)
The researchers analysed 240,157 births between July 2020 and January 2021 documented by California Vital Statistics birth certificates and found that 3.7% indicated COVID-19 infection during pregnancy. The preterm birth rate among those with COVID-19 was 11.8% compared with 8.7% among those without.
Risk of very preterm birth (less than 32 weeks of gestation) was 60% higher for those infected with COVID-19, while the risk of giving birth at less than 37 weeks (all preterm births) was 40% higher in those with infection. For those who also had hypertension, diabetes and/or obesity as well as COVID-19, the risk of preterm birth rose 160%.
The sample included 47.2% Latinx, 26.8% white, 4.9% Black, 13.2% Asian, 0.03% American Indian/Alaskan Native, 0.4% Hawaiian/Pacific Islander and 7.3% identified as other, unknown, or two or more races.
“Preterm birth is associated with many challenging outcomes for pregnant people and babies, and very preterm births carry the highest risk of infant complications,” said lead and corresponding author Deborah Karasek, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology & Reproductive Sciences, and researcher with the California Preterm Birth Initiative at UCSF.
“Our results point to the importance of preventative measures to reduce COVID-19 infection among pregnant people to prevent preterm birth, including vaccination. Pregnant people may have concerns about vaccines and the health of their baby, so being able to have an open dialogue that values those concerns, describes evidence about safety, and conveys the risks posed by COVID-19 infection during pregnancy is critically important.”
“Given that the burden of COVID-19 is greater in these populations, as is the burden of pre-term birth, it really points to the need for an equity approach. With the surge in infections and increase in the Delta variant, we must think about pregnant people, especially Black and Brown populations, as the groups that need to be prioritized, with supportive policies to reduce exposure and stress, and increase access to care.”
The research has been published in The Lancet Regional Health – Americas.