Sunday, Apr 02, 2023

Omicron: Should Pregnant Women Be Worried About New Covid-19 Mutations?

Omicron: Should Pregnant Women Be Worried About New Covid-19 Mutations?

Amid the emergence of the Omicron variant, researchers in France say vaccination may be useful to protect women and their babies against Covid-19.

Covid-19 and pregnancy PTI

Even as researchers across the world are currently focused on the Omicron variant of Covid-19, fresh research on SARS-Cov-2 has shed further light on its impact on certain sections of the population.  According to a study, pregnant women with Covid-19 are more likely to have complications with pregnancy and birth compared to those without the ínfection.

The emergence of Omicron from South Africa has led to panic in certain countries, including India. Over 20 nations have implemented travel bans on passengers from South Africa and other neighbouring countries. 

While cases continue to increase across the world, researchers are worried about the severity and rate of transmission of the new variant. And one of the sections that remain most vulnerable to virulent virus Covid-19 strains includes pregnant women. 

Since the emergence of the Covid-19 virus in 2019, physicians and researchers have been studying the impact of the virus and its mutations on pregnancy. 

The delta variant, for instance, caused several cases of complications and stillbirths among pregnant women and was linked to higher risk. With the emergence of newer mutations, here's a look at what we know so far about the impact of Covid-19 on pregnancy.

Does Covid-19 cause complications in pregnancy?

According to research published on Tuesday in the journal PLOS Medicine, it does. Researchers from the Universite de Paris in France analysed data for hospitalisations for birth after 22 weeks gestation in France between January and June 2020, the first six months of the pandemic.

Until March 15, all confirmed cases of Covid were hospitalised but after this hospital admission was based on the medical condition of the patient, they said.

The researchers noted that of 244,465 births in hospital, 874 or 0.36 per cent of mothers had been diagnosed with Covid-19.

Women in the Covid-19 group were more likely to be older, have obesity, be carrying more than one baby, or have a history of high blood pressure compared to those without, they said.

The study found that women with Covid-19 had a higher frequency of admission to ICU, death, preeclampsia and eclampsia.

Does Omicron impact pregnancy?

After being detected in South Africa, the new Covid-19 variant has popped up across several parts of the world including Britain, Netherlands, Australia, Hong Kong, Botswana and other "at-risk" nations. According to the World Health Organisation, it is not yet clear whether infection with Omicron causes more severe disease compared to infections with other variants, including Delta. 

There is currently no information to suggest that symptoms associated with Omicron are different from those from other variants.

However, previous variants like Delta did pose a higher risk to pregnant women. In the US, Pregnant women with Covid-19 have been recorded to face increased chances for stillbirths compared with uninfected women, and that risk spiked to four times higher after the delta variant emerged.

While researchers are trying to study the severity and transmissibility of the new variant, preliminary evidence suggests there may be an increased risk of reinfection with Omicron. However, information continued to be limited, especially about the impact of Omicron on vulnerable groups.

What kind of complications can Covid-19 cause in pregnant women?

Preeclampsia is a pregnancy complication characterised by high blood pressure and signs of damage to another organ system while eclampsia is the new onset of seizures or coma in a pregnant woman with preeclampsia.

The infected women also had a higher frequency of gestational hypertension, haemorrhage either before or after birth, very premature spontaneous or induced birth, and cesarean section, the researchers said.

Studies have linked Covid-19 to higher rates of pregnancy terminations, stillbirths, gestational diabetes, placenta previa, placental abruption, and blood clots.

Higher Risk of premature delivery: According to a report containing guidelines for frontline health workers by the Union Health Ministry in India, Covid-19 infections in pregnancy may increase the possibility of premature delivery, the baby's weight might be less than 2.5 kg and in rare situations, the baby might die before birth, it said.

It said pregnant women, older than 35 years of age, obese, having a pre-existing illness such as diabetes or high blood pressure and having a history of clotting in the limbs are at a higher risk of developing complications after Covid-19 infection.

Higher risk of stillbirth: This is not the first time that the Covid-19 has been linked to complications in pregnancy. 

According to a report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the USA, Pregnant women with Covid-19 face increased chances for stillbirths compared with uninfected women, and that risk spiked to four times higher after the delta variant emerged.  The data was based on the examination of 1.2 million deliveries in 736 hospitals across the US from March 2020 through September 2021.

Do vaccines help?

The study published on Tuesday by researchers in France suggests that vaccination may be useful to protect women and their babies, particularly for those at a higher risk of developing severe Covid-19 infections.

Being aware of these complications is important for health care providers to support pregnant women and provide the best care.  According to the WHO, variants of Covid-19, including the globally dominant Delta variant can cause severe disease or death, in particular for the most vulnerable people, and thus prevention is always key. 

The Union Health Ministry in India approved the administration of Covid-19 vaccines to pregnant women in June after researchers proved it to be safe. 

(With inputs from Agencies)