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Pregnant people not at increased risk for coronavirus, experts say

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WATCH: No increased risk of coronavirus in pregnancy, experts say – Mar 12, 2020

As the World Health Organization declared the outbreak of the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, a pandemic, anxiety around what the virus means for pregnant people grows.

In Canada, there are currently more than 100 cases, according to tallies from the provinces. There are now more than 18,000 cases in more than 110 countries, according to the WHO.

Soon-to-be parents are often in and out of hospitals for medical appointments — places where patients may be treated for the virus and medical professionals may be at risk. Doctors at Toronto hospitals have even called for specialized locations to test for COVID-19 to limit the spread within health facilities.

READ MORE: What exactly is coronavirus social distancing? Here’s what experts say

But are pregnant folks at a greater risk of contracting the virus and passing it to their fetus? According to experts, so far research indicates no.

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“There is no evidence that pregnant women are at increased risk from COVID-19,” said Dr. Brett Belchetz, a Toronto-based emergency room physician and CEO of telehealth company Maple.

“This appears different from the flu, for example, where pregnant women typically are at greater risk of flu complications.”

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Belchetz also added that so far, there is “no evidence that COVID infection is passed on to the fetus or has any effect on the fetus.”

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According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), whether a pregnant person with COVID-19 can transmit the virus to their fetus before, during or after delivery is still unknown.

“However, in limited recent case [studies] of infants born to mothers with COVID-19 published in the peer-reviewed literature, none of the infants have tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19,” the CDC reported.
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“Additionally, virus was not detected in samples of amniotic fluid or breastmilk.”

READ MORE: How the new coronavirus can (and can’t) spread

The CDC does warn, however, that the immunologic and physiologic changes pregnant people experience might make them more susceptible to viral respiratory infections, including COVID-19.

Canadian health officials advise people not to travel to high-risk countries and to consider “social distancing.”

Because COVID-19 is a new illness and health experts are still learning about it, Belchetz said, findings may evolve over time. Pregnant Canadians — like all people — should take health and safety measures to protect themselves.

To avoid entering highly populated health-care spaces, Belchetz advises pregnant people try to “move as many routine medical visits as possible to remote care modalities like telephone or video.”

Protecting yourself from the novel coronavirus

Like with other viruses, practising good hygiene is key in helping prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The virus spreads through droplet transmission, meaning that when an infected person coughs or sneezes, they expel tiny water droplets containing the virus to a distance of about six feet away.

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These droplets are heavy enough that they can’t stay in the air for longer than a few minutes, so they fall onto whatever is under them, which can include surfaces. While unsure of their exact lifespan, experts estimate these droplets can survive on surfaces for anywhere between several hours and a few days.

This means cleaning surfaces, like desks and bathroom counters, is important. Handwashing, however, is the best way to protect yourself, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.

“Pregnant women should take all the same precautions as the general public, such as avoiding sick people and public gatherings, frequently washing hands and sanitizing surfaces,” Belchetz said.

If the virus isn’t on your hands, it’s harder for it to get to your nose and mouth and infect you.

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People should also stay at home when they’re sick and cough into their elbows to avoid transmitting the virus.

Masks are not advised unless you’re a health worker or, in some cases, if you’re feeling sick yourself as a way to protect others, experts previously told Global News.

— With files from Leslie Young

Laura.Hensley@globalnews.ca