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COVID-19 linked to preterm deliveries, new CDC report says

Preterm deliveries appear to be linked to coronavirus infections, according to a new study on COVID-19 and pregnancy published Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC report also tracked miscarriages and stillbirths in patients with the virus.

The researchers looked at medical data on nearly 600 hospital patients between March and mid-August who both tested positive for COVID-19 and were pregnant. Among the 445 births during the study, 12.6% of were preterm deliveries, which is more than 25% higher than the rate of preterm delivery for the general U.S. population, according to the CDC. Preterm births were three times more common in symptomatic patients than those who were asymptomatic. 

Ten patients experienced either a miscarriage or stillbirth, but the report noted that the it "likely underestimates the percentage of pregnancy losses that occur among women with COVID-19." Five of the pregnancy losses occurred after 20 weeks into the pregnancy.

Wednesday's report echoed research published in JAMA earlier this summer that noted higher instances of preterm labor and cesarean sections among those with coronavirus infections, as well as "significantly higher" instances of stillbirths during the pandemic at a London hospital.

More than half of the patients in the new study had no symptoms of the illness when they were admitted to the hospital. Of those with symptoms, 16.2% of cases were severe enough to need treatment in an intensive care unit, and 8.5% required ventilators. Two patients died.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), one of the nation's leading medical professional groups, told CBS News it was reviewing the latest report.

"The pandemic continues to be a rapidly evolving situation," Christopher Zahn, ACOG's vice president of practice activities, said in an emailed statement.

Zahn emphasized that pregnant people, especially those "with increased risk of exposure due to occupation or underlying conditions" should take extra precautions to stay safe from the virus, including "hand washing, socially distancing, and wearing a mask."

When the coronavirus first arrived in the U.S. earlier this year, doctors had extremely limited information on the specific risks it might pose during pregnancy. It wasn't until June that the CDC released guidance indicating that pregnant people "might be at an increased risk for severe COVID-19 illness." In that report, researchers noted that "pregnancy was associated with hospitalization and increased risk for intensive care unit admission, and receipt of mechanical ventilation, but not with death."

Additionally, pregnant Black and Latina patients "appear to be disproportionately affected" by COVID-19 infection, according to the CDC. That would be in line with higher overall maternal mortality rates for Black women, as well as the disproportionate toll the coronavirus pandemic has taken on Black and Hispanic communities.

After the June report was released, an official from the Department of Health and Human Services rebuked the CDC, according to reporting from the Washington Post. In an email obtained by the Post, Paul Alexander, a senior adviser to Michael Caputo, HHS's assistant secretary for public affairs, said the report "reads in a way to frighten women ... as if the President and his administration can't fix this and it is getting worse."

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