Is Covid-19 a Fertility or Pregnancy Concern?

What experts know and don’t know

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The data on the impact of Covid-19 on fertility and pregnancy is lacking. One reason is the novel coronavirus hasn’t been around long enough for researchers to conduct definitive studies on the long-term effects of it on fertility or pregnancy.

“At the current time, our understanding of Covid-19 and effects on fertility are limited,” says Banafsheh Kashani, MD, board-certified OB/GYN and specialist in reproductive endocrinology and infertility at Eden Fertility Centers. “Currently, we do not believe there is a direct effect on fertility. However, long-term studies and research are lacking, so patients should not be reassured there is no effect. Therefore, I advise patients to continue to practice social distancing to minimize exposure to the virus due to possible unknown, long-term effects.”

While that’s not the most encouraging takeaway, the advice remains that avoiding Covid-19 should be everyone’s priority, including those who are looking to get pregnant soon. It’s known that becoming seriously ill can have an impact on fertility in the short term, like causing hormonal disturbances, regardless of the infection.

Some researchers have identified Covid-19 virus particles in semen, but what that means for virus transmission or fertility is unknown. While Kashani says a Covid-19 infection does not seem to cause infertility, as with any serious infection, a person with Covid-19 could go through a period of subfertility. “High fevers can cause a significant reduction of sperm numbers and their ability to swim,” Kashani says. “This can cause temporary infertility until there is enough time (months) for the testicles to regenerate new sperm.”

What about the impact of a Covid-19 infection on pregnancy? Once again, the data is incomplete. But as recently reported in Science, it seems that fetal infections later in pregnancy appear rare, and “experts are cautiously optimistic that the coronavirus won’t warp early fetal development.”

However, since pregnant women undergo immune system changes that can make them more susceptible to respiratory illnesses, they could be at a higher risk for severe illness from Covid-19.

Data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that among the more than 91,400 women of reproductive age with Covid-19 infections, the 8,207 women who were pregnant were 50% more likely to end up in intensive care units than women who were not pregnant. Pregnant women were also 70% more likely to need ventilators.

The data underscores the importance of protecting pregnant women from Covid-19 and making sure pregnant women with it get quality care. As with most things in the pandemic, the best way to prevent negative outcomes is to take the necessary precautions to prevent infection.

Health and science journalist. Former editor of Medium’s Covid-19 Blog and deputy editor at Elemental. TIME Magazine writer before that

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