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Coronavirus outbreak: Risks pregnant women face from Covid-19 infection; precautions to take

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The coronavirus outbreak that has claimed over 1,300 lives and infected close to 40,000 people the world over has arguably become one of the worst international health crises of this century. The Covid-19 infection (earlier known as 2019-novel coronavirus or 2019-nCoV) started in early December last year in China’s Wuhan city. According to the latest update from the World Health Organisation, people in at least 25 countries have been infected by Covid-19 so far.

While the increasing spread of coronavirus outbreak has put all sections of society at risk, the risks associated with Covid-19 infection for pregnant women need special attention.

In a recent study published in the Lancet, an internationally renowned health journal, researchers said available evidence so far indicates that the risk of vertical transmission (mother-to-child) of Covid-19 infection might be low or equal to that seen during the SARS-CoV-1 outbreak years ago.

The study, published on February 12, was based on an analysis of nine pregnant women who were infected with Covid-19 and delivered babies.

The researchers wrote, “As the Covid-19 outbreak unfolds, prevention and control of Covid-19 infection among pregnant women and the potential risk of vertical transmission have become a major concern.”

Analysis of the nine pregnant women infected with Covid-19 and their newborns showed that only two newborns contracted Covid-19 infection after birth.

The first case was confirmed 17 days after birth. The child had a history of having close contact with two people who were infected with Covid-19-the mother and maternity matron.

In the second case, the Covid-19 infection was confirmed at 36 hours after birth. In this case as well, researchers said possibility of a close contact with an infected adult after birth could not be ruled out.

Thus, in the limited study of nine infected pregnant mothers who delivered babies, there weren’t any cases of newborns with Covid-19 infections at birth. This indicates that transmission of the infection from mother-to-child did not take place during the pregnancies.

The researchers have however cautioned that this is a limited study and though its findings are valuable in the present context, more evidence needs to be gathered.

“Although the study analysed only a small number of cases (nine women with confirmed Covid-19 pneumonia), under such emergent circumstances these findings are valuable for preventive and clinical practice in China and elsewhere,” the study said.

Besides this, all the nine deliveries in this study were caesarean. Thus, the study cannot comment on whether vertical transmission of Covid-19 is possible during vaginal birth.

The other limitation that the study faces is that it focuses on women in late stages of pregnancies. More evidence is needed to comment anything on the risk of mother-to-child transmission or other risk factors associated with women who contract Covid-19 in early stages of pregnancy.

The study found that symptoms of Covid-19 infection among pregnant women are similar to those noticed among other adults.

However, no reliable evidence is as yet available to support the possibility of vertical transmission of COVID-19 infection from the mother to the baby.

The Lancet study said pregnant women are susceptible to respiratory pathogens and to development of severe pneumonia, which possibly makes them more susceptible to Covid-19 infection than the general population.

This is especially if they have chronic diseases or maternal complications.

Based on their observations in past research, the study advises these precautions for pregnant women:

  • Pregnant women and newborn babies should be considered key at-risk populations in strategies focusing on prevention and management of COVID-19 infection.
  • There is a need to strengthen health counselling, screening, and follow-ups for pregnant women.
  • Visit time needs to be reinforced and use of protective clothing emphasised.
  • Newborns of pregnant women with suspected or confirmed Covis-19 infection should be isolated in a designated unit for at least 14 days after birth.
  • In such cases, the newborns should not be breastfed.
  • It should be ensured that newborns of infected mothers don’t have close contact with the mother while she has suspected or confirmed Covid-19 infection.

Here are the general precautions that WHO has advised to prevent Covid-19 infection:

  • Avoid close contact with people suffering from acute respiratory infections
  • Wash hands frequently, especially if there is a direct contact will ill people or exposure to their environment
  • Avoid close contact with live or dead farm and wild animals
  • If you have symptoms of acute respiratory infection, you should practice cough etiquette (maintain distance, cover cough and sneezes with disposable tissues or clothing and wash hands).
  • If you are visiting a live animal market, a wet market or any animal product market, practice general hygiene like regular hand washing with soap and potable water after touching animals and animal products.
  • Avoid touching eyes, nose or mouth with hands and avoid any contact with sick animals or spoiled animal products.
  • Avoid consuming raw or undercooked animal products and handle raw meat and milk with care.

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