NIH to study long-term COVID-19 impact on pregnant women, children

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The National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced this week that it will study the long-term impact of COVID-19 on pregnant women. 

The agency said last week that it would support a four-year follow-up study regarding the potential effects on 1,500 women who had been infected with SARS-CoV-2 during pregnancy. 

The study will enroll some participants from an earlier study by the Maternal-Fetal Medicine Units (MFMU) Network, which was supported by NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). 

Study participants will be recruited from a group of approximately 4,100 patients with asymptomatic and symptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infection during pregnancy who gave birth at MFMU Network hospitals. 

Researchers, led by the University of Utah School of Medicine’s Dr. Torri Metz, will assess patient symptoms periodically and evaluate offspring for both neurologic symptoms and cardiovascular conditions.

With the goal of reducing post-acute sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 infection (PASC) – or “Long COVID” – after pregnancy and treating its symptoms, the group aims to understand what proportion of patients with COVID-19 in pregnancy are at risk for Long COVID, whether the severity of COVID-19 infection in pregnancy influences the likelihood of developing Long COVID and how the proportion of patients who develop Long COVID after COVID-19 in pregnancy compares to that of non-pregnant women who develop it. 

“The effort is part of NIH’s Researching COVID to Enhance Recovery (RECOVER) Initiative, which aims to understand why some individuals who have had COVID-19 don’t fully recover or develop symptoms after recovery,” NIH explained. Known as PASC, or more commonly as Long COVID, these conditions affect all ages. Long-term effects include fatigue, shortness of breath, difficulty concentrating, sleep disorders, fevers, anxiety and depression.”

An October study published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology found that one in four pregnant people with COVID-19 may have lingering “long-haul” illness, according to National Geographic.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns that although the overall risk of severe illness is low, pregnant people and recently pregnant people are at an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19 when compared to non-pregnant people.

Having certain underlying medical conditions – and other factors – can further increase a pregnant or recently pregnant person’s risk for developing severe illness.

Pregnant people with COVID-19 are also at an increased risk for preterm birth and could be at increased risk for other poor pregnancy outcomes.

The CDC says that getting a COVID-19 vaccine can protect from severe illness due to the virus and that data suggests that the benefits of receiving a COVID-19 vaccine outweigh any known or potential risks of vaccination during pregnancy.

Additionally, a New York University Grossman School of Medicine study published in September found that pregnant women who receive the mRNA COVID-19 vaccine during pregnancy pass high levels of antibodies to their babies.

“Pregnancy can be both a special time and also a stressful time – and pregnancy during a pandemic is an added concern for families. I strongly encourage those who are pregnant or considering pregnancy to talk with their healthcare provider about the protective benefits of the COVID-19 vaccine to keep their babies and themselves safe,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said in a September statement.

Pregnant women are advised to get recommended COVID-19 vaccines and talk to healthcare professionals regarding staying healthy or any other concerns.

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