NIH to study ‘long COVID-19’ in pregnant women

Several questions surround the long-term effects of COVID-19 and pregnant women and the National Institutes of Health would like to find answers.

The agency announced Tuesday that it will support a four-year follow-up study to learn about the potential effects of COVID-19 in women who contracted the disease during pregnancy. 

The study will also follow up on their offspring for any potential neurological or cardiovascular long-term effects.

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Officials said the announcement is part of their larger effort to understand why some COVID-19 patients don’t fully recover or suffer from long COVID, where symptoms persist months after the initial infection. Long-term effects include fatigue, shortness of breath, difficulty concentrating, sleep disorders, fevers, anxiety and depression.

Scientists will enroll participants from an earlier study by the Maternal-Fetal Medicine Units Network. An undetermined number of women will be drawn out of 4,100 asymptomatic and symptomatic COVID-19 patients who gave birth at MFMU Network hospitals. 

Dr. Torri Metz of the University of Utah School of Medicine will lead the team of researchers. They will examine what proportion of patients with COVID-19 in pregnancy are at risk for long COVID, whether the severity of COVID-19 in pregnancy influences the likelihood of developing long COVID and how the proportion of patients who develop long COVID after contracting the virus during pregnancy compares to that of non-pregnant women who develop long COVID. 

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Researchers hope the study findings will inform efforts to reduce the risk of long-term effects of the novel coronavirus after pregnancy and to treat its symptoms.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has urged all pregnant women to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Expectant women run a higher risk of severe illness and pregnancy complications from the coronavirus, including perhaps miscarriages and stillbirths.

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"The vaccines are safe and effective, and it has never been more urgent to increase vaccinations as we face the highly transmissible delta variant and see severe outcomes from COVID-19 among unvaccinated pregnant people," CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in a statement in August.

The updated guidance comes after a CDC analysis of new safety data on 2,500 women showed no increased risks of miscarriage for those who received at least one dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine before 20 weeks of pregnancy. The analysis found a miscarriage rate of around 13%, which is within the normal range.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.