Israel Sees 90% Increase in Coronavirus-Infected Pregnant Women
January is far outpacing the previous two months in number of deliveries of mothers with the virus
Israel registered a more than 90% increase in coronavirus infections of pregnant women during the first 23 days in January, compared to the entire month of December 2020. When compared to the month of November, January’s exponential rise of infected pregnant women has reached over 700%, according to statistics from the Health Ministry.
The coronavirus is a risk multiplier for pregnant women, says Dr. Hen Sela, a senior obstetrician-gynecologist and director of a maternity ward at Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center.
“It doubles the risk of pneumonia, doubles the risk of morbidity and doubles the risk of admission into the intensive care unit. The coronavirus for a pregnant woman is akin to a severe disease,” Sela told The Media Line.
Indeed, the number of pregnant women admitted to critical care beds in Israeli hospitals more than doubled between December and the first three weeks of January.
At Shaare Zedek Medical Center, approximately 10% of all births since the beginning of 2021 have been to women infected with the coronavirus.
December and January were very, very busy months for the maternity teams at the Jerusalem medical center. Sela called it a notable “baby boom.”
The hospital treats many women from the ultra-Orthodox-populated “red cities,” or areas with high coronavirus infections, including Jerusalem, Beitar Illit, and Modi’in Illit. So, it is not surprising that the level of pregnant women with infections is higher, Sela said.
Israel’s ultra-Orthodox population has been at the center of the coronavirus’ significant increase. Of the country’s top 10 cities with the highest infection levels, nine are majority ultra-Orthodox.
Other hospitals around Israel serving different populations, such as Nazareth Hospital EMMS in Israel’s north with a patient load that is 80% Arab, and Sheba Medical Center just outside of Tel Aviv with a mixed population, report seeing fewer pregnant patients infected with the virus.
The hospital, Shaare Zedek’s Sela says, has changed the way it admits women ready to give birth.
First there is a regular admission for women showing no signs of the virus, those who have already been vaccinated, and those who have already had the virus. Separate from this is a special quarantine area set aside for pregnant women who may be showing some signs of the infection, such as a fever. In this unit, the staff assesses the situation and conducts coronavirus testing for the woman and for a single escort. No one else from the family is allowed in.
Finally, there is the known-COVID-19 maternity unit. This area started out in the regular coronavirus unit but a few months ago was given its own space.
The Nazareth Hospital has one regular maternity ward and one coronavirus maternity ward. Sheba has a separate coronavirus maternity ward. Hospitals are not taking chances.
With the introduction of new, more contagious variants of the coronavirus into the country, currently from the United Kingdom and from South Africa, chances of becoming infected are even higher.
On Saturday, Israel’s Ministry of Health reported that it had begun testing some pregnant women for the new variants. The ministry said that six of seven pregnant woman sick with the virus who were tested were identified as carrying the UK coronavirus mutation, which is more contagious than earlier mutations.
Even with the new variants, the world has gone from knowing nothing about the coronavirus to having a better understanding of what it can do to women in pregnancy and to a newborn.
When the pandemic began, the medical community was “hysterical” because no one knew exactly how the virus was transferred from person to person and even more so from mother to baby. “We were not sure how to handle the situation, not only for our staff but also for new parents and the babies themselves,” Dr. Tzipi Strauss, director of the neonatal ward at Sheba, told The Media Line. The center has one of the country’s largest neonatal units with 53 beds.
The hospital used to separate mothers from their newborns, which is difficult for both, Straus said, adding that it is no longer recommended.
“Now we know that breast feeding does not transmit the virus and neither does delivery of the child,” Strauss told The Media Line.
The hardest thing for the family, she said, is having to insist that mothers not kiss their newborns on the mouth because air and droplets are the virus’ major transmission vectors.
“We are asking that mothers wear masks all the time after birth when the child is brought to them. And when they leave the hospital we urge them to keep their mouths masked,” she said.
One can only imagine how difficult this is for families of newborns, she added.
We are asking that mothers wear masks all the time after birth when the child is brought to them. And when they leave the hospital we urge them to keep their mouths masked
Israel’s Arab population in the Galilee in northern Israel is not experiencing a similar baby boom to the ultra-Orthodox community. Birth numbers are stable or a bit lower than in previous years, according to Dr. Jimmy Jadaon, head of obstetrics and gynecology and the in vitro fertilization department at the Nazareth hospital. Nazareth is considered a red city.
Jadaon told The Media Line that families “were afraid to get pregnant last year in March, April and May. Even now, we have women who put off their IVF treatments for a month so that they can be vaccinated against the coronavirus.”
Jadaon said he is certain that his hospital, and others, will see a baby boom in two or three months.
When it comes to vaccines for pregnant women, these experts are being careful.
“We follow the ministry of health guidelines and recommend that women in the second and third trimester get vaccinated,” Jadaon said, adding that the pregnant nurses and doctors with whom he works are all vaccinated.
Strauss recommends following the ministry’s guidelines, adding that high-risk pregnancy patients should get vaccinated.
Sela, on the other hand, says that every pregnant woman “should consider having the vaccine,” and women in high-risk pregnancies “should definitely consider it,” with an emphasis on the word definitely.
To him, a discussion with the patient always ends with them weighing the pros and cons. “And the pros always outweigh the cons,” he said.