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Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) and pregnancy: what obstetricians need to know

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Coronavirus disease 2019 is an emerging disease with a rapid increase in cases and deaths since its first identification in Wuhan, China, in December 2019. Limited data are available about coronavirus disease 2019 during pregnancy; however, information on illnesses associated with other highly pathogenic coronaviruses (ie, severe acute respiratory syndrome and the Middle East respiratory syndrome) might provide insights into coronavirus disease 2019’s effects during pregnancy. Coronaviruses cause illness ranging in severity from the common cold to severe respiratory illness and death.

Currently the primary epidemiologic risk factors for coronavirus disease 2019 include travel from mainland China (especially Hubei Province) or close contact with infected individuals within 14 days of symptom onset. Data suggest an incubation period of ∼5 days (range, 2 – 14 days). Average age of hospitalized patients has been 49 – 56 years, with a third to half with an underlying illness. Children have been rarely reported. Men were more frequent among hospitalized cases (54 – 73%). Frequent manifestations include fever, cough, myalgia, headache, and diarrhea. Abnormal testing includes abnormalities on chest radiographic imaging, lymphopenia, leukopenia, and thrombocytopenia. Initial reports suggest that acute respiratory distress syndrome develops in 17 – 29% of hospitalized patients. Overall case fatality rate appears to be 1%; however, early data may overestimate this rate. 

In 2 reports describing 18 pregnancies with coronavirus disease 2019, all were infected in the third trimester, and clinical findings were similar to those in non-pregnant adults. Fetal distress and preterm delivery were seen in some cases. All but 2 pregnancies were cesarean deliveries and no evidence of in utero transmission was seen. Data on severe acute respiratory syndrome and Middle East respiratory syndrome in pregnancy are sparse. For severe acute respiratory syndrome, the largest series of 12 pregnancies had a case-fatality rate of 25%. Complications included acute respiratory distress syndrome in 4, disseminated intravascular coagulopathy in 3, renal failure in 3, secondary bacterial pneumonia in 2, and sepsis in 2 patients. Mechanical ventilation was 3 times more likely among pregnant compared with non-pregnant women. Among 7 first-trimester infections, 4 ended in spontaneous abortion. Four of 5 women with severe acute respiratory syndrome after 24 weeks’ gestation delivered preterm. For Middle East respiratory syndrome, there were 13 case reports in pregnant women, of which 2 were asymptomatic, identified as part of a contact investigation; 3 patients (23%) died. Two pregnancies ended in fetal demise and 2 were born preterm. No evidence of in utero transmission was seen in severe acute respiratory syndrome or Middle East respiratory syndrome. 

Currently no coronavirus-specific treatments have been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration. Because coronavirus disease 2019 might increase the risk for pregnancy complications, management should optimally be in a health care facility with close maternal and fetal monitoring. Principles of management of coronavirus disease 2019 in pregnancy include early isolation, aggressive infection control procedures, oxygen therapy, avoidance of fluid overload, consideration of empiric antibiotics (secondary to bacterial infection risk), laboratory testing for the virus and coinfection, fetal and uterine contraction monitoring, early mechanical ventilation for progressive respiratory failure, individualized delivery planning, and a team-based approach with multispecialty consultations. 

Information on coronavirus disease 2019 is increasing rapidly. Clinicians should continue to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website to stay up to date with the latest information.

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