[Updated 10 April 2020]
It’s hard to ignore all the news about the coronavirus (COVID-19) right now. If you’re pregnant or trying to conceive it’s completely normal to be worried now that the virus has been declared a global health pandemic and spreading rapidly in developed countries such as the UK and USA.
But there is no need to panic. Just like with other viruses and illnesses, there are precautions you can take to protect yourself and your baby.
Health authorities in Australia and across the world are monitoring COVID-19 closely with updated information being provided daily. There has been a number of fake news and misinformation, especially on social media, so make sure you rely on trusted information sources such as the Department of Health (Australian Government), NSW Health (NSW State Government) or World Health Organization.
What is COVID-19?
Coronavirus is a large family of viruses which includes the common cold. More severe types of coronaviruses include the 2002 SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and the 2012 MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome).
COVID-19 is a new strain of coronavirus that has never been detected in humans before. COVID-19 was first identified in Wuhan, Hubei Province in mainland China. Scientists think the virus came from an animal transmitting the virus to a person at a live animal market (or ‘wet’ market). Most people who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 worked at or visited the seafood animal market in Wuhan. In early January 2020, this specific market was closed by authorities.
Scientists are still investigating the origin of this new coronavirus, how it spread from animals to humans, how it spreads from person to person, and how to stop it spreading further.
What are the symptoms of coronavirus?
Human coronavirus usually causes mild symptoms, similar to the common cold, pneumonia or the flu. Symptoms of COVID-19 include:
- Fever or a high temperature
- Dry cough
- Sore throat
- Shortness of breath.
Not everyone with COVID-19 will develop symptoms straight away. It can take up to 14 days after exposure to the virus for symptoms to show (this is known as the ‘incubation period’).
Due to changes in the immune system during pregnancy, pregnant women are at greater risk of serious complications from viruses and infections such as influenza. However, COVID-19 doesn’t appear to cause more severe symptoms or illness in pregnant women compared to the general population.
There is currently no evidence that COVID-19 increases the risk of miscarriage or birth defects.
If you feel unwell or develop any of the above symptoms, there are many testing or fever clinics set up in the community or near a local hospital. If you want to go to your GP or the local emergency department, call ahead to explain your symptoms so staff can prepare for your visit. They may advise that you wear a surgical face mask if you have one, or one will be provided for you, to reduce the risk of you spreading the virus to anyone else while you’re visiting a medical centre or hospital.
Is there a cure for the coronavirus?
Currently, as of 10 April 2020, there is no vaccine to prevent against the coronavirus, and there is no specific treatment. If coronavirus is confirmed, symptoms usually will resolve on its own. Antibiotics do not treat viruses. It’s important that confirmed cases remain isolated at home or in a hospital and closely monitored by medical staff to stop the virus spreading to more people.
How is the coronavirus spread?
Scientists are still investigating COVID-19 but it’s likely that it spreads the same way as other coronaviruses. Other human coronaviruses can spread from person to person through:
- Contact with droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes
- Touching objects or surfaces that were contaminated by droplets from a cough or sneeze from an infected person, then touching your mouth, eyes, nose or face
- Close contact, such as being face to face with an infected person for at least 15 minutes or being in the same closed space with an infected person for at least 2 hours.
Can COVID-19 be passed from mother to baby?
If you’re infected with COVID-19 during pregnancy, scientists are still studying whether the virus can be passed from mother to baby.
The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RANZCOG) provided a message to pregnant women on 29 March 2020 that stated:
There have been a handful of very recent case reports suggesting that the virus may pass from the mother to the baby (vertical transmission). However, this is very early, preliminary data and has not been confirmed. There was no evidence of harm to the babies.
There is currently no evidence that COVID-19 can be passed on to newborns in breastmilk.
How can I protect myself from the coronavirus?
Recommendations by the RANZCOG for pregnant women to prevent COVID-19 are the same as the general population:
- Hand hygiene: regular hand washing with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitiser
- Avoid anyone who is coughing or sneezing
- Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth
- Social distancing and reducing general community exposure
- Early reporting and investigation of symptoms
- Avoid all non-essential travel
- Stay at home and avoid public spaces
- Reduce your use of public transport
- Work from home (if possible).
Delivery of antenatal and pregnancy care have changed to reduce the risk of exposure for both pregnant women and medical or health care staff. Changes recommended by the RANZCOG include:
- Reducing antenatal appointment times
- Switching to telehealth consultations or classes instead of face-to-face consultations or classes
- Limiting hospital visitors to one person
- Early discharge from hospital.
There is not enough research about whether wearing a face mask can reduce the risk of getting coronavirus. Currently in Australia face masks are only recommended for healthcare workers who may be treating someone with coronavirus, there is no need for the general public to wear masks.
Protect yourself from COVID-19 [Infographic]
References & Resources
NSW Health and the Department of Health are updating information regularly as we learn more about the coronavirus and its spread.