The COVID-19 pandemic has put frontline workers, especially pregnant women, at considerable risk of contracting the virus.
Research at UTHealth School of Dentistry at Houston on “Considerations for Pregnant Dental and Health Care Workers Amid COVID-19,” has been published in the October edition of the Journal of Dental Research: Clinical & Translational Research.
Professor and Interim Associate Dean for Research Ariadne Letra, DDS, MS, PhD, is lead author, along with Assistant Professor Leticia Chaves de Souza, DDS, MS, PhD; Akshita Mann, BDS, MDS, MSD; and Ankur Dahiya, BDS, MDS, MSD.
The research was born of Mann’s concerns as an expectant mother while she completed UTSD’s Advanced Education in Endodontics Program earlier this year.
“When the pandemic first started, Dr. Mann came to me with the idea for this article, because it affected her personally, being pregnant at the time,” said Letra. “I thought it would be a good opportunity to explore its impact. We looked at information on how health care workers could protect themselves, but also protect their patient population.”
Starting in mid-March, the team did a daily search of information on COVID-19 from the American Dental Association, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in London, and the World Health Organization, in addition to literature available in PubMed.
“One of the biggest challenges in putting this paper together was the ever-changing information,” Letra said. “We had several iterations and corrections made over the course of our research, because of new guidelines and scientific publications released during the nearly three-month period that it took to finalize the article. Even between when the paper was accepted and then actually published, the numbers of infected cases no longer reflected the reality of this virus.”
Pregnant health care professionals are already considered a high-risk population, since pregnancy substantially increases susceptibility to infectious diseases. Working on the frontlines and being exposed to aerosol-generating procedures would further elevate the risk of contracting COVID-19.
The article presents the posed risks and potential effects of the virus on maternal and fetal health, discusses current prevention and management strategies, and addresses other ethical and financial considerations. The researchers found that health care institutions’ policies aimed at protecting this at-risk group should consider avoiding assigning them as first responders, especially if equally trained staff are available.
The UTHealth team concluded that complete awareness of these effects, as well as safety guidelines, will allow for a safer work environment for pregnant health care workers.
“This article highlights the impact of COVID-19, a disease about which we still know very little, on the lives of pregnant health care workers and the importance of having workplace guidelines aimed at minimizing their exposure to infection,” Letra said. “This does not mean that pregnant health care workers cannot work on the frontlines. In fact, some of these women want to continue to be on the frontlines, and it’s absolutely their right to be there.
“The take-home message is that with proper personal protective equipment, they can still work safely.”