The growing coronavirus pandemic has Hoosiers across the state worried for their health and the health of their loved ones.
As of Tuesday morning, there were 30 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in Indiana, according to the State Department of Health, and two deaths.
We’ve heard a lot about the people who are at highest risk of dying from the virus — those over the age of 60 and those with underlying medical conditions — but what about pregnant women?
We asked IU Health obstetrician Chemen Neal to break down some of the things pregnant women should keep in mind as the coronavirus continues to spread.
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Are pregnant women at higher risk?
Because not much is known yet about how the novel coronavirus affects pregnant women, Neal said doctors are basing their behaviors and recommendations on experiences with other respiratory viruses, such as influenza and SARS.
“In those respiratory illnesses, pregnant women are more likely to have severe disease and become hospitalized,” Neal said. “And so, for that reason, they are put in the category of high-risk, just like people with medical problems and the elderly.”
Can COVID-19 be passed to an infant?
It’s too early to tell.
Some viruses can cross the placenta and affect the baby, Neal said, but it’s still unknown whether COVID-19 does. A case study of nine pregnant Chinese women who contracted the virus showed that none of their infants were infected when they were born. However, a newborn in London recently tested positive for the virus after birth.
For new mothers who are breastfeeding, Neal said there’s no evidence that the virus can be transmitted via breast milk. The concern, she said, is transmission via respiratory droplets from mother to baby. In that case, it could be that a mother with the virus would want to pump and have a healthy family member feed the baby to avoid close contact that could risk spreading the virus.
Should I still go to my doctor’s office during the outbreak?
Women shouldn’t assume their appointments have been canceled, nor should they feel the need to avoid doctors’ offices altogether out of fear of getting sick. Practitioners and staff at outpatient offices are keeping those spaces clean and free from patients or visitors who are feeling ill and could spread the virus.
“Prenatal care is still really, really important,” Neal said.
Can my family visit my baby?
As much as you might want to have family members visit your newborn, now may not be the time. To limit the potential for spread, only essential caregivers should be around infants.
“We also don’t know how newborns are going to respond to this virus,” she said. “For now, we’re just really considering them to be very vulnerable to it. They have a brand-new immune system, so we just really want to limit their exposure as much as possible.”
As such, any of the baby’s caregivers should ensure their vaccinations are up-to-date, especially for influenza and the whooping cough, which is part of the Tdap vaccine. Those vaccinations should be administered at least two weeks before the caregiver comes in contact with the child.
What should I be doing to stay safe?
Pregnant women and new moms should be following the same recommendations as the general public, Neal said.
- Work from home.
- Wash your hands.
- Don’t touch your face or eyes.
- Stay 6 feet away from others.
- Use hand sanitizer and disinfect your electronic devices frequently.
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Call IndyStar reporter Holly Hays at 317-444-6156. Follow her on Twitter: @hollyvhays.