Covid and pregnancy: Virus may lead prematurity and stillbirth, UK study finds

Matt Hancock announces trial of coronavirus booster vaccines

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A major UK study suggests contracting Covid-19 close to when a baby is due could increase the risk of stillbirths and premature newborns. Researchers hope the study encourages pregnant women to get the coronavirus vaccine when it is offered to them.

The American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology published the report.

The study observed more than 340,000 women who gave birth in England between the end of May 2020 and January 2021.

All participants were tested for coronavirus at the time of their hospital induction.

Of the women tested, 3,527 had positive tests, of which 30 had stillbirths.

Researchers estimate 8.5 per 1,000 women who tested positive had a stillbirth after.

By contrast, 3.4 per 1,000 women who tested negative had a stillbirth.

Professor Asma Khalil, co-author of the report, highlighted the importance of knowing the risks of the virus during pregnancy.

She told the BBC: “This study is the largest yet in England to describe the pregnancy outcomes in pregnant women who had tested positive for Covid-19 around the time of birth.

“While it is reassuring that the overall increases in the rate of stillbirth and pre-term birth remain low, this study does show that the risk of stillbirth or premature birth may be increased in women who have the infection around the time of birth.

“This highlights the importance of Covid-19 vaccination for pregnant women; it reduces the risk not just to themselves, but also to their babies.”

Dr Mary Ross-Davie, at the Royal College of Midwives, stressed the importance of staying alert during the pandemic.

She added: “While the increased risk of a stillbirth or pre-term birth remains low when women have Covid-19 in pregnancy, the important message here is that pregnant women, like all of us, should continue to take precautions to reduce their chances of exposure to the virus.

“This includes continuing social distancing, hand-washing and mask-wearing.”

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