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Pregnant women with COVID-19 are more likely to be admitted into the intensive care unit, put on ventilators, need life support, and die than coronavirus patients who aren’t pregnant, a CDC report found.

Racial disparities existed too, with pregnant Hispanic women more likely to contract COVID-19 and Black women with the illness more likely to experience serious complications, whether or not they were pregnant. 

The findings add to past research showing COVID-19 can increase the risk of pregnancy complications, though the overall risks are still low. 

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Most pregnant women with COVID-19 fare well, but they are still at increased risk for serious complications when compared to nonpregnant women with the disease, a large report out of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found. 

The analysis looked at data from about 400,000 15- to 44-year-old women who had symptomatic COVID-19 between late January and early October. They found that pregnant women were more likely to be admitted into the intensive care unit, put on ventilators, need life support, and even die than those who weren’t pregnant. 

Specifically, pregnant women with COVID-19 were nearly four times as likely to need ventilation and twice as likely to die than nonpregnant women with COVID-19 of the same age. Still, their overall risks for complications were low: 1.5% of pregnant women went to the ICU, 0.29% needed ventilation, 0.07 required life support, and 0.15% died. 

The findings demonstrate how important it is for pregnant women and their families to take coronavirus transmission measures seriously. They could also inform how healthcare systems treat pregnant COVID-19 patients. 

Women of color were disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and negative outcomes 

In 2019, 24% of pregnant women were Hispanic and 51% were white. In the current analysis, 30% of the COVID-19 positive pregnant women were Hispanic and only 24% were white. Like past research, this finding suggests people of color are disproportionately susceptible to contracting COVID-19. 

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The report illuminated other racial disparities too, with pregnant Asian and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander women seeming to be at disproportionate risk of ICU admission, and non-Hispanic Black women, whether or not they were pregnant, having higher rates of death from COVID-19.  

Marian Knight, the lead author of a UK study that found more than half of pregnant women who were admitted to the hospital with COVID-19 were Black or from other minority ethnic groups, previously told Insider more qualitative research involving talking to women about their experiences is “urgently needed.”

That work, she said, will help discern what puts pregnant women of color at such risk for COVID-19, be it household arrangements, jobs that make physical distancing difficult, restricted access to healthcare, something else, or all of the above. 

In contrast to past research, the findings suggest pregnant women with COVID-19 are more likely to die than nonpregnant women with the illness 

The current report had some limitations, mostly related to incomplete data. For instance, providers may be more inclined to report more serious outcomes and some serious outcomes may not yet be seen. 

Pregnant people’s increased risk for serious outcomes could also be related to how pregnancy affects the body, for example by increasing heart rate and oxygen consumption, decreasing lung capacity, dampening the immune system, and raising the risk for blood clots, the authors write.

But the large number of women studied adds to past research finding that pregnant women with COVID-19 are more likely to end up in the ICU and receive ventilation than nonpregnant women of the same age. It also finds pregnant women with COVID-19 are more likely to need life support and die than nonpregnant women, which past research didn’t find. 

pregnant women and their families should take precautions like limiting interactions with people who might have been exposed to the coronavirus, wearing a mask, practicing social distancing, frequently washing their hands, and staying up to date on their prenatal care visits, the authors write. 

Because other research has shown pregnant women, whether or not they have COVID-19, are also at high risk for depressive and anxiety symptoms during the pandemic, it’s also critically important for them to seek support, whether from friends and family, online support groups, or a mental health provider. 

“There are going to be a lot of emotions, some of which are sadness, grief and the unknown,” Dr. Jane van Dis, an OB-GYN who serves as medical director at the telemedicine network Maven, previously told Insider. “Just know that connecting with people who are there to support women is essential for mental health.” 

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