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Premature birth 7 times more likely if pregnant women get COVID-19

The study of more than 5,000 pregnant women is one of the first to look at pregnancy outcomes for COVID-19 patients by trimester.

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(Photo by MorphoBio via Shutterstock)

By Stephen Beech via SWNS

Mums-to-be are seven times more likely to give birth prematurely if they contract COVID-19 late in their pregnancy, warns a new study.

Researchers found that COVID-19 is associated with an increased risk of preterm birth, but only for women infected in their final trimester.

They advised women who are 34 or more weeks pregnant to wear masks and social distance to reduce the risk of infection.

The study of more than 5,000 pregnant women is one of the first to look at pregnancy outcomes for COVID-19 patients by trimester.

However, the Israeli research team found no difference in the chances of losing a baby between infected and non-infected women

Previous studies of COVID-19 during pregnancy have been small, generally limited to patients who are in hospital, and have often not reported outcomes depending on infection during different stages of pregnancy.

Biostatistician and epidemiologist Noga Fallach and her colleagues at the Kahn-Sagol-Maccabi Research and Innovation Centre used anonymized data captured by Maccabi Healthcare Services in Israel to match 2,753 women who were infected during pregnancy with 2,753 women without reported COVID-19 infections.

The study ran from February 21, 2020, until July 2 last year.

Of the infected women, 17.4 percent caught COVID-19 during the first trimester, 34.2 percent during the second and 48.4 percent during the third trimester.

COVID-19 infection in the first and second trimesters was not associated with an increased risk of preterm birth.

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(Photo by MorphoBio via Shutterstock)

However, women infected in their third trimester were 2.76 times more likely to give birth prematurely – while women infected after 34 weeks of gestation were over seven times more likely to experience preterm birth.

The findings, published in the journal PLOS One, showed a lower rate of water breaking before labor began in infected women (39.1 percent) compared to non-infected women (58.3 percent), and proportions of cesarean sections and baby loss were similar in both groups.

Because of the increased risk of preterm birth in women infected during late pregnancy, the researchers suggest that during their third trimester, and particularly after 34 weeks of gestation, they should be advised to social distance and wear masks to reduce risk of infection.

Dr. Tal Patalon, head of Kahn-Sagol-Maccabi (KSM), said: “The results are encouraging and reassuring that COVID-19 infection during pregnancy is not associated with any type of pregnancy loss.

"However, it should be remembered that the research group tested the COVID-19 pre-Delta variants, and does not refer to the dominant variant today, which is Omicron."

She added: "We continue to conduct research to provide real-world data and knowledge to the public and decision-makers.”

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