CLEVELAND, Ohio — While a lot about the novel coronavirus and its impact on various populations is still unknown, maternal health professionals and researchers in Cleveland say that there's even less known about COVID-19 and its impact on pregnant women. Dr. Ruth Farrell says having so little data is harmful to expectant mothers and their babies.
“Much of this data is lagging, it's finally coming out, we're getting more of an understanding, but still yet there's so much unknown. And what's remarkable is that there are proportionally far more studies in the non-pregnant population than the pregnant population. And there’s 4 million women in this country alone, who deliver each year. We need to step up our game and get more data out about how to best care for pregnant women and their families.” Farrell said.
Farrell is one of the physicians leading a citywide collaborative among the Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals, and MetroHealth, along with Case Western Reserve University. They are trying to understand if COVID-19 passes the through the placenta, when it occurs, and what the effects are for the pregnant woman and for the unborn baby.
“What we're doing is recruiting women who have been COVID-positive at any point in time in the pregnancy. What we want to understand is not just at the time of delivery what this may mean for the baby, but also she gets a virus early in the pregnancy, say in the first trimester, and by the time she comes to deliver the virus has resolved, we still want understand what that means for her and for the baby, “ Farrell said.
According to the Cuyahoga County Board of Health, the county saw its first COVID-positive case in a pregnant woman in March, and now approximately 100 pregnant women have tested positive for COVID-19 at some point in their pregnancy. Women taking part in the study are patients of participating doctors and those who volunteered after visiting a county testing site. Dr. Farrell says with womens' permission, doctors will collect samples at the time of delivery.
“We’ll analyze samples to look both of the virus, but also evidence of the virus and footprints of the virus, both in the mother, the baby, and the placenta, which gives us so much information about the pregnancy,” said Farrell.
She says this study will not only give insight into what this pandemic means for pregnant women and their children and better inform health care providers about how to best manage patients during this time. It will also shed light on the importance of including pregnant populations in trials moving forward.
“We know that there are policies in place, instructions in place that make it possible to include pregnant women in studies, yet so often, they're not included. If we say that this population, we're going to hold out on research, then we won't be able to access data and new treatments. We hope that this pandemic ends soon, but it may continue in the future and there may be others, so developing an infrastructure to how to prioritize the interests of pregnant women now will help us model how to do it faster and better if and when we have to do in the future," said Farrell.