Why do we need this research?
At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, pregnant women and birthing people were considered to be an ‘at risk’ group and were advised to shield. While the effects of COVID-19 infection during pregnancy are unclear, there is some evidence to suggest that pregnant people may be at increased risk of becoming seriously unwell if they catch it, particularly in the third trimester.
We need to find out whether COVID-19 infection can cause complications in pregnancy, such as miscarriage, slow growth or premature birth. We also need to understand whether the risk of something going wrong is altered by either the stage of pregnancy at which a woman or birthing person is infected with COVID-19 or by the presence of other pregnancy complications such as gestational diabetes or pre-eclampsia.
What’s happening in this project?
For several years, our researchers have been asking women to take part in The Early Pregnancy Observational Study (EPOS), which follows women from five weeks of pregnancy through to miscarriage or birth. Through this study, our researchers have been able to work with many women and gather a vast amount of data. As well as recording information about each woman’s clinical history and the outcome of her pregnancy, the researchers collect blood, urine and vaginal samples from the women throughout their pregnancies. So far, more than 1,500 women have been included in this study.
Our researchers are now using EPOS to discover more about the effects of COVID-19 infection during pregnancy. To find out if a woman has been infected, the team will analyse the samples taken throughout pregnancy and at delivery to check for antibodies for COVID-19; they will also look for other biological markers that are associated with COVID-19 infection. By taking samples at different points in pregnancy, it should be possible to work out when in pregnancy infection occurred or if the woman had the virus before she became pregnant. The researchers will then look at the final pregnancy outcomes for each woman to see whether COVID-19 infection during pregnancy is linked to early or late pregnancy complications.
What difference will this project make?
This project will give us a better understanding of how many women and birthing people are infected with COVID-19 during pregnancy, and whether infection with the virus is linked to miscarriage or other complications later in pregnancy.