Aug. 11 (UPI) -- Pregnant women with COVID-19 are about 40% more likely to deliver their babies prematurely, according to a study published Wednesday by JAMA Network Open.
Researchers said they also found that COVID-19 poses a five-fold higher risk for intensive care treatment during childbirth and a roughly 15-fold higher risk for dying while in the hospital, although the latter is rare, the data showed.
The findings highlight the importance of vaccination against the coronavirus for women who are pregnant or plan to become pregnant, the researchers said.
"For expectant mothers, it is important to take steps to minimize the risk of COVID-19 infection," study co-author Dr. Ninh T. Nguyen told UPI in an email.
"Infection at the time of childbirth is associated with higher risk for ICU admission, preterm birth and even death," said Nguyen, chair of the department of surgery at the University of California-Irvine.
Since the start of the pandemic, research regarding the potential risks for pregnant women with COVID-19 has produced varying results.
A study published in April by JAMA Pediatrics found that pregnant women with the disease are at increased risk for complications, such as high blood pressure, pre-eclampsia and preterm delivery, compared to those not infected.
However, a study published earlier this month by CMAJ, the Canadian Medical Association Journal, determined that pregnant women with the virus were no more likely than healthy mothers to experience preterm birth or stillbirth.
The risks for pregnant women are significant, given that data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that they have about a two-fold higher risk for severe illness once infected.
For this study, Nguyen and his colleagues reviewed health data for nearly 870,000 pregnant women who gave birth at hospitals across the country between March 1, 2020, and Feb. 28 this year.
Nearly 19,000, or just over 2%, had tested positive for COVID-19 before giving birth, the researchers said.
Just over 16% of the women with the virus gave birth prematurely, compared with just under 12% of those not infected, the data showed.
About 5% of pregnant women with COVID-19 were admitted to the ICU during delivery, while just 1% of those who did not have the disease required this level of care.
Nearly 2% of the infected pregnant women required respiratory support or mechanical ventilation to maintain breathing, compared with 0.1% of those not infected.
In addition, 24, or 0.1%, of the expecting mothers with COVID-19 died in the hospital, raising the mortality rate about 10 times higher than in women without the virus.
"Vaccination is the best method to reduce maternal and fetal complications of ... infection," study co-author Dr. Jennifer Jolley told UPI in an email
"Other efforts to minimize COVID-19 infection for pregnant women include social distancing, handwashing, ... avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated indoor spaces and wearing a face covering," said Jolley, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of California-Irvine.