A healthy pregnancy is naturally essential to any mother and child. Unfortunately, those who contract COVID-19 during their pregnancies, even as early as the second trimester, are at risk for severe symptoms. They are also in danger of unfavorable perinatal outcomes, such as preeclampsia and stillbirths.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Pregnant women are at increased risk for severe disease from COVID-19, and COVID-19 is associated with an increased risk for adverse perinatal outcomes.” Because of “anecdotal evidence” that pregnant women with coronavirus were experiencing more significant numbers of stillbirths, the CDC reviewed data to see if this was the case “during March 2020–September 2021 as well as before and during the period of Delta variant predominance in the United States (March 2020–June 2021 and July–September 2021).” The CDC found that, though stillbirths were rare, “COVID-19 documented at delivery was associated with increased risk for stillbirth, with a stronger association during the period of Delta variant predominance.”
A higher risk of “placental injury” among women with the disease
It is well-documented that infections, viruses, and other medical conditions can cause adverse effects on a developing fetus. While transmission of the virus through the placenta is rare, viruses always pose a risk of this type of infection. Perhaps more disturbing is the recent increase in placental damage in mothers across the country. The Washington Post spoke with Amy Heerema McKenney, a pathologist for the Cleveland Clinic who reviewed many of these cases. Per their report:
Almost as soon as she began looking into [reports of increased stillbirth cases], Heerema McKenney recalled, she became ‘pretty panicked.’ A normal placenta is spongy and dark, reflecting the nourishing blood flowing through it. The ones she was looking at in her lab from the mothers who lost their babies were like nothing she had ever seen before: firm, scarred and more of a shade of tan.
‘The degree of devastation was unique,’ she said. Flipping through case files, she noted that most of the women were in their second trimester, unvaccinated or only partially vaccinated, and infected with the coronavirus within a two-week window before their pregnancies ending.
The greatest risk remains preeclampsia
Preeclampsia is a complication that typically occurs about halfway through a pregnancy, around 20 weeks. It causes pregnant women to have high protein levels in their urine, among numerous other symptoms. And while symptoms typically disappear after childbirth, this blood pressure condition can impact the mother’s organs. It is also the leading cause of maternal death in the country.
According to the Washington Post, “During the pandemic, pregnant people infected with the coronavirus — whether symptomatic or not — were found to have a 60 percent greater risk of preeclampsia than those who were not infected, according to a number of studies.” The Post also found that these mothers were experiencing “higher rates of other complications, ranging from preterm birth and infection, to dying within six weeks of the pregnancy ending.”
Risks that infections pose to moms-to-be
Unfortunately, pregnant women are at greater risk for viruses and other infections due to hormonal, immunity, and body system changes. For example, the immune system of a pregnant woman changes to prevent the body from considering the fetus “foreign” and causing the immune system to attack it. However, the immune system works twice as hard because it protects the mother and fetus, which increases infection susceptibility.
Infection risks to the mother include vaginitis or vaginal disorders caused by bacteria or yeast. Symptoms vary in light of the specific infection but typically include vagina and vulva inflammation, odors, burning sensations, and itchiness. Pregnant women are also susceptible to urinary tract infections that cause a strong, continual urge to urinate, cloudy or bloody urine, burning sensations when urinating, pelvic pain, and odorous urine. Postpartum infections are yet another risk to pregnant women.
Like COVID-19, some infections pose risks to both the mother and fetus, including group B streptococcus. This virus is typically transmitted during vaginal deliveries and can cause stillbirths. It can also result in life-threatening infections in newborns, including sepsis, meningitis, and pneumonia. Untreated Group B streptococcus can also cause learning disabilities, vision loss, and chronic mental disabilities. In addition, listeriosis, which is transmitted through contaminated food, is a bacterial infection that risks preterm birth, stillbirth, and pregnancy loss.
Other infections might pose less risk than others, such as fifth disease. Caused by the human parvovirus type B19, fifth disease usually does not cause problems for the mother or fetus. However, it can cause fetal anemia or miscarriages in rare instances. Additional viruses affecting a growing fetus include HIV, HPV, syphilis, hepatitis B, Lyme disease, gonorrhea, and chlamydia.
Preventing infections during pregnancy
Viral and bacterial infection prevention measures for pregnant women include:
- Washing the hands thoroughly and frequently with anti-bacterial soap
- Never sharing cups or utensils with other people
- Cooking meat until it is well done and never consuming undercooked meat
- Ensuring vaccinations are up-to-date
- Refraining from changing cat litter or having contact with wild animals
- Never consuming unpasteurized dairy products
- Getting tested for sexually-transmitted diseases and practicing safe sex
- Practicing social distancing and wearing a mask where applicable
In the event of illness, pregnant women should schedule appointments with their physicians right away. Any viral or bacterial infection diagnosed and treated promptly reduces the risk of long-term complications.
Experiencing pregnancy and birth complications because you were exposed to a virus or bacterial strain is often traumatic, as are any birth injuries. The parties responsible should be held accountable. And while compensation does not make up for the suffering you and your new baby are experiencing, it allows you to cover medical costs and create the best life possible for the infant. Call Harris Lowry Manton LLP in Atlanta today or complete our contact form to discuss your case with a personal injury attorney.
One of the nation’s top trial attorneys, Jeff Harris is an award-winning litigator who handles high-profile, complex cases across a wide variety of practice areas. He excels at securing justice for clients who have been seriously injured or killed, holding responsible parties accountable for their actions as well as their negligence.
Read more about Jeffrey R. Harris here.