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COVID-19 and Your Placenta

Your Placenta and Viruses

The placenta is one of the most important aspects in a healthy pregnancy. Your placenta will carry oxygen, nutrients, hormones and blood to your growing baby. The unwanted waste will also be flushed out through the placenta. Another major role is protecting your baby from sicknesses. The placenta is the life giving connection between you and your baby!

There are still unknowns about the placenta however. One of them is how viruses interact with it and what exactly is happening when those viruses cause problems. The outcomes of similar viral infections are known though and can include, miscarriage, preterm labor, stillbirth, fetal disease, seizures, mental disabilities and delays, and disease later in life like diabetes (Annual Review of Virology).

The Placenta and COVID-19

Reports of miscarriages, fetal distress and stillborn babies are being linked to COVID-19. According to CNBC obstetricians are reporting a rise in miscarriages since the pandemic started. They are unable to officially link this to the virus but view it as related. This is not surprising. The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reports that 40% of pregnant people with cases of MERS and SARS (both types of coronavirus) resulted in a miscarriage or effected growth.

Learning from the past and similar situations is a great way to keep ourselves safe and knowledgeable. In an article published in the Elsevier Public Health Emergency Collection, data from the 2002-2003 outbreak of SARS and MERS illustrates what can happen when infected with a virus. In pregnant SARS patients: 57% had a miscarriage in the 1st trimester, 40% had fetal growth restriction and 80% had a preterm birth, 25% died during pregnancy. In pregnant MERS patients: 91% presented with adverse outcomes, 44% of neonates required admission to the ICU, and 27% died.

Data is emerging for the new COVID-19 and its effects on pregnancy. Time will reveal more. The CDC states on their website, “A small number of other problems, such as preterm (early) birth and other problems with pregnancy and birth, have been reported in babies born to mothers who tested positive for COVID-19. We do not know if these problems were related to the virus.”

A study at Northwestern found placental injury, blood clots and abnormal blood flow in the placenta of people testing positive for COVID-19. One of the assistant professors of pathology at Northwestern says, “There’s an emerging consensus that problems with blood clotting and circulatory problems are a feature of the coronavirus, and I think our work shows there might be something clot-forming about coronavirus, and it’s happening in the placenta.”

In an article published by JAMA the details of one miscarriage related to COVID-19 are explained. A pregnant woman in her 2nd trimester with COVID symptoms took herself to the hospital. She was given acetaminophen and sent home. Two days later her symptoms did not stop and she started to experience severe contractions and a high fever. Her baby was unfortunately stillborn. The baby was not found to be infected with COVID, neither was the amniotic fluid. But when the placenta was biopsied the virus was found. The doctors could find no other reason for the stillbirth. The virus was then found in the woman’s nasopharyngeal swab.

What Can You Do?

Unfortunately the thing we keep hearing over and over is, more research needs to be done. It is understandably hard to collect data from large numbers of pregnant women, especially ones that are infected. On top of that we don’t know exactly how the virus works or how viruses in general interact with the placenta. 

Taking precautions is the very best thing you can do right now. Sanitizing, limiting social interactions, social distancing, wearing protective equipment and just all around being mindful is your best course of action.