HOUSTON - As the pandemic continues on, we are learning more about how COVID-19 impact pregnant women and their babies.
Studies in medical journals such as JAMA Network Open and JAMA Pediatrics consistently show pregnant women with COVID-19 are significantly more likely to have pre-term birth among other complications. The risk appears to be far greater if the women are unvaccinated during the delta surge.
Dr. Carey Eppes, Chief of Obstetrics at Ben Taub Hospital, is not only reading the studies, she is feeling the heartbreak the delta variant is causing.
"This has been probably the hardest time to be taking care of pregnant women in my career," she told FOX 26 fighting back tears. "It's really hard. It's hard to have so many sick moms come in, I'm getting emotional just thinking about it, to come in so late in their disease condition that it's hard to rescue them."
What she sees at Ben Taub Hospital, she says, mirrors what studies are showing - pregnant women with COVID-19 are 10 to 15 more likely to have severe complications including preeclampsia, respiratory failure, and preterm birth.
"I think a substantial number of the preterm deliveries are actually what we would define as indicated meaning moms are so sick, they are in respiratory failure and so we are having to deliver babies," Dr. Eppes explained.
This surge brought on by the delta variant is different, she says. Before about 3 percent of all pregnant women in the ICU were COVID-related at Ben Taub. Now, says it's closer to 30 percent and they are unvaccinated.
"I can't think of a woman that I've seen in the ICU who was vaccinated," Dr. Eppes added.
She says those who are vaccinated often have mild symptoms.
"What we're trying to do as physicians and nurses is really try to get ahead of it with our patients and talk to them about vaccination and encourage them to get vaccinated so we're not trying to rescue them but preventing it from getting to that point," Dr. Eppes said.
"I can discuss DTAP vaccine with pregnant women. But then the room kind of changes when you talk about COVID vaccine and that's an unfortunate time for us in healthcare. It makes it hard to take care of our patients well," she stressed.
Dr. Eppes says, fortunately, the babies born to women with COVID-19 tend to do well. She says she has not seen a baby with COVID-19 at birth but the baby and mother are often separated for an extended period.
"It's really hard on those families. It's hard on those pregnant women to not see their babies and it's often not just days, but weeks. We try to do a lot of things like bring an iPad so they can see their baby in the NICU but it's not the same as having them and holding them," she sympathized.