Covid during pregnancy shown to 'exhaust' placenta and damage immune response

A worrying study on the effects of catching Covid-19 during pregnancy has shown even a mild case can have detrimental effects.

As cases of coronavirus continue to rise around the UK, new research claims the disease can ‘exhaust’ the placenta and damage its immune response.

Multiple studies during the course of the pandemic have linked the virus to various complications in pregnancy, such as pre-eclampsia.

But this new research, published last month in the Amercian Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, goes further.

It’s the largest of its kind involving the study of placentas in infected women. And while it was first thought that coronavirus didn’t harm developing foetuses, we now know that’s not the case.

‘What we’re seeing now is that the placenta is vulnerable to Covid-19, and the infection changes the way the placenta works, and that in turn is likely to impact the development of the foetus,’ explained Dr Kristina Adams Waldorf, a professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at the University of Washington School of Medicine.

The study involved a total of 164 expectant mothers – 24 of whom were uninfected and acted as a control group, and 140 had contracted coronavirus. Of those infected, roughly 75 per cent were asymptomatic or had mild symptoms.

‘The disease may be mild, or it may be severe, but we’re still seeing these abnormal effects on the placenta,’ Dr Adams Waldorf said.

‘It seems that after contracting Covid-19 in pregnancy, the placenta is exhausted by the infection, and can’t recover its immune function.’

The placenta provides nourishment, oxygen, and immune protection for the fetus until it’s born. Other studies led by Dr Adams Waldorf have shown women who contract Covid have a significantly higher mortality rate than those that don’t.

According to the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention, pregnant women who catch Covid are more likely to risk hospitalisations or preterm birth.

But, its not yet known how the different variants of Covid-19 play their part.

‘Studying each of the variants in real time is really challenging,’ Dr Adams Waldorf said, ‘because they just keep coming so fast, we can’t keep up. We do know that the Covid-19 Delta variant was worse for pregnant individuals, because there was a spike in stillbirths, maternal deaths and hospitalizations at that time.’

Regardless of the variant, Adams Waldorf stressed it’s important that women not catch Covid.

Women who are pregnant should first get vaccinated and boosted, and continue to mask and stay within a strict bubble of individuals who are also vaccinated and boosted.

She called this latest finding ‘the tip of the iceberg’ in how Covid might affect fetal or placental development and has stressed that more research on this needs to be carried out in the future.

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