Here’s what a Utah doctor’s nationwide study found about COVID-19 and pregnancy

Severe COVID-19 symptoms carry a higher likelihood of serious pregnancy complications, a new study found.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Dani Al-Mansouri, 21, of Herriman, who was 31 weeks pregnant with her first child, waits the 15-minutes required after getting her second dose of the Pfizer vaccine at the Mountain America Exposition Center in Sandy on Friday, April 30, 2021. Getting the vaccine can help prevent pregnant people from having severe illness from COVID-19, which can lead to serious complications, according a new study led by a Utah doctor.

Pregnant people sick with COVID-19 are roughly 40% more likely to develop serious complications or die than pregnant people who don’t have the virus, according to a new nationwide study led by a Utah doctor.

The more severe one’s COVID-19 symptoms are, the more likely they are to suffer serious pregnancy complications — even from common risks, such as high blood pressure, postpartum hemorrhage and other infections, said Dr. Torri D. Metz, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist and associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at University of Utah Health.

Metz discussed the findings in a news conference Monday. Here’s what you need to know.

How does COVID-19 affect pregnancy?

Pregnant people have a higher risk of dying from COVID-19 or needing to be treated in an intensive care unit, previous research has shown.

This new research found that COVID-19 can also adversely affect the outcome of a pregnancy, Metz said.

Pregnant people with moderate or severe COVID-19 symptoms — who need supplemental oxygen or to be treated in an ICU — were roughly three times more likely to have serious pregnancy complications than those who had mild, flu-like symptoms or were asymptomatic.

For instance, if you have high blood pressure while pregnant, Metz said, catching COVID-19 could make that “progress to things like end organ damage, or needing really acute treatment of IV medications to bring down your blood pressure” to avoid having a stroke.

Premature births were more likely in people with COVID-19, with newborns needing to be treated in neonatal intensive care units. And pregnant people with moderate or severe COVID-19 symptoms had a “significantly higher risk of cesarean birth,” researchers found.

Pregnant women with body mass index of 30 or higher, and who identify as Hispanic or Black, also had a higher risk of pregnancy complications while sick with COVID-19, the study shows.

Who was involved in the study?

Researchers examined the medical records of 14,104 pregnant people treated at 17 medical centers across the country, including in Utah, from March through December of 2020.

Roughly 2,350 patients tested positive for COVID-19 while pregnant or within six weeks of delivery. Over 13% of those who had the virus developed pregnancy complications, compared to 9% of those who tested negative. Five women in the study who had COVID-19 died.

Most COVID-19 cases (80%) were detected in the third trimester, meaning researchers weren’t able to reliably study how the virus may affect complications earlier on in a pregnancy, Metz said.

The study was published Monday in The Journal of the American Medical Association.

(University of Utah Health) Dr. Torri D. Metz, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist at the University of Utah Health, led a nationwide study that found that COVID-19 during pregnancy can cause serious complications.

What is Dr. Metz’s advice?

Get vaccinated for COVID-19, Metz said.

Even though this study was conducted in 2020, before vaccines were widely available to the public, Metz said it provides more evidence that pregnant people should get the vaccine, to help prevent them from experiencing a more severe COVID-19 illness.

Nationally, pregnant people have been less likely than those who aren’t pregnant to receive the vaccine. Metz said she hopes this new study will help alleviate the concerns of people who have been hesitant.

“We know that vaccination is safe and effective, and we know that SARS-CoV-2 is dangerous in pregnancy,” she said.

Find where to get vaccinated at coronavirus.utah.gov. Learn more about COVID-19 and pregnancy at mothertobaby.org/fact-sheets/covid-19-vaccines/.

Becky Jacobs is a Report for America corps member and writes about the status of women in Utah for The Salt Lake Tribune. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by clicking here.