Austin health experts warn delta variant could pose higher risk for pregnant women

Photo of a doctor with a pregnant woman
Maternal medicine doctors across Central Texas have seen increasing numbers of pregnant women come to the hospital with breathing issues and pregnancy complications as a result of COVID-19. (Courtesy Fotolia)

Maternal medicine doctors across Central Texas have seen increasing numbers of pregnant women come to the hospital with breathing issues and pregnancy complications as a result of COVID-19. (Courtesy Fotolia)

Maternity health experts from around Central Texas warned Aug. 2 that pregnant women in the area are seeing heightened effects from the delta variant of COVID-19 with more expecting mothers admitted to hospitals with breathing issues and pregnancy complications.

"Unlike the original COVID that we were seeing 18 months ago, this new delta variant is affecting pregnant moms more severely," said Dr. Jessica Ehrig, the chief of maternal fetal medicine and obstetrics at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center-Temple, at a news conference.

Ehrig and several other experts in maternal and fetal medicine joined Austin Public Health representatives to discuss how the delta variant is affecting patients. She said pregnant women across all trimesters are more likely to end up hospitalized if affected with the delta variant than the original strain of COVID-19 and more likely to need high-grade respiratory support in an intensive care unit. Ehrig said the risk for pregnancy complications, including preterm birth, preeclampsia and stillbirth, also goes up with the delta variant—as does the risk of maternal death.

More than 95% of pregnant women admitted to the hospital with COVID-19 are unvaccinated, said Dr. Kimberly DeStefano, the medical director of maternal fetal medicine at St. David's Women's Center of Texas. She urged pregnant and breastfeeding women to seek vaccination, including those who have previously been infected with COVID-19, in accordance with the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Almost 150,000 pregnant patients have been vaccinated already with clearly demonstrated safety thus far. We know that the earlier in pregnancy you were vaccinated, the more antibodies are present at the time of birth for the infant," DeStefano said. "So this is something that's very important, both during the pregnancy and postpartum."

As of Aug. 2, the seven-day moving average for daily COVID-19 hospital admissions in the Austin area—APH's chief indicator for pandemic risk—is 61, well past the Stage 5 risk threshold of 50. APH has not officially announced a shift to Stage 5, the community's highest level of risk, but said it was in the process of creating adjusted Stage 5 guidelines that take the delta variant into account. In light of the area's increasing risk, Dr. Desmar Walkes, the Austin-Travis County health authority, encouraged pregnant individuals, like all Austin community members, to protect themselves by wearing a mask in social situations outside the household.

"In short, we're asking everyone in the community to wear a mask, including our pregnant moms and kids," Walkes said.
By Olivia Aldridge

Reporter, Central Austin

Olivia joined Community Impact Newspaper as a reporter in March 2019. She covers public health, business, development and Travis County government. A graduate of Presbyterian College in South Carolina, Olivia worked as a reporter and producer for South Carolina Public Radio before moving to Texas. Her work has appeared on NPR and in the New York Times.


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