COVID-19 Delta Variant Appears To Increase Stillbirth Risk: CDC

The risk of a baby dying during childbirth is reportedly higher in pregnant moms who contract the delta variant of the novel coronavirus. Other complications are also being monitored by experts amid the ongoing pandemic. 

Latest Pregnancy And COVID-19 Findings

Two new studies published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Friday are shedding light on the alarming incidence of stillbirth among pregnant women who get infected with SARS-CoV-2, specifically the more contagious delta variant. 

The first study described 15 COVID-19 associated deaths during pregnancy in Mississippi. The data collected for the study were from March 1, 2020 to Oct. 6, 2021. According to the team who conducted the study, there was an apparent increase in the ratio of the deaths per 1,000 cases among pregnant women as the delta variant became the predominant strain of SARS-CoV-2. 

The researchers also noted that apart from the reported 15 deaths during pregnancy, there were 413 COVID-19-associated deaths recorded among women of reproductive age during the course of the study. They concluded after analyzing their data that the incidence of death during pregnancy was nine in 1,000 infections, while the incidence of death during the reproductive age was 2.5 per 1,000 infections.

While the first study focused more on the mothers, the second study concentrated on determining the risk for stillbirth among pregnant moms. The team behind the second study indicated that among the 1,249,236 delivery hospitalizations from March 2020 to September 2021, females who got infected with the virus were at a higher risk for stillbirth compared to those who didn’t contract the disease. 

Throughout the course of the study, a total of 8,154 stillbirths were documented. Compared to the total number of delivery hospitalizations, 0.64% of the stillbirth cases accounted for deliveries without  COVID-19. On the other hand, 1.26% accounted for deliveries with COVID-19. During the delta period, which was from July to September 2021, a total of 1,171 stillbirths were reported; 2.70% of cases were with COVID-19, while 0.63% of cases were without infection. 

Implications Of The Studies

In both studies, researchers noted that pregnant and recently pregnant women are at an increased risk of severe illness and death from the novel coronavirus. But apart from affecting the mothers, the virus was also found to negatively impact the unborn fetus in the womb. 

“Although stillbirth was a rare outcome overall, a COVID-19 diagnosis documented during the delivery hospitalization was associated with an increased risk for stillbirth in the United States, with a stronger association during the period of delta variant predominance,” the co-authors of the second study wrote in their report. 

It is important to note that the researchers did not indicate if their study provided proof that the delta variant caused more stillbirths. Nevertheless, the data they collected showed that there has been a significant difference in the amount of oxygen fetuses are able to absorb in mothers diagnosed with COVID-19 compared to those who didn’t get infected.

The team behind the second study acknowledged the findings of previous research on pregnancy complications in SARS-CoV-2-infected women, suggesting that placental hypoperfusion (reduced blood flow) and inflammation can occur in pregnant moms diagnosed with COVID-19. 

The new findings mirror the recent reports from doctors nationwide on the unprecedented rise in pregnant moms becoming severely ill with COVID-19, especially after the delta strain became the predominant variant. 

“We are seeing loads of pregnancy complications from COVID-19 infection,” UH Cleveland Medical Center’s director of fetal intervention Dr. Ellie Ragsdale, who was not involved with the studies, told NBC News. Ragsdale also agreed with the findings, saying that she and her colleagues noticed that infected pregnant moms have a hard time providing oxygen-rich blood to their babies. 

In analyzing the second study, the CDC did not asses the vaccination status of the mothers. Thus, there was no way of determining whether the vaccines had a positive effect on the pregnant moms who contracted the virus during their pregnancy. Nevertheless, experts have been strongly encouraging pregnant women to get vaccinated to lower their risk of suffering a severe case of COVID-19.

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