The COVID-19 pandemic has put frontline workers, especially pregnant women, at considerable risk of contracting the virus, according to researchers at the UTHealth School of Dentistry (UTSD) at Houston.
Study author Akshita Mann, BDS, MDS, MSD, was an expectant mother while completing 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 lead author, professor, and interim associate dean for research Ariadne Letra, DDS, MS, PhD.
“I thought it would be a good opportunity to explore its impact. We looked at information on how healthcare workers could protect themselves, but also protect their patient population,” Letra said.
Starting in March, the researchers daily searched for information about COVID-19 from the ADA, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, and World Health Organization, in addition to 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,” she said.
“Even between when the paper was accepted and then actually published, the numbers of infected cases no longer reflected the reality of this virus,” Letra said.
Pregnant healthcare professionals already are 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 researchers said.
The study 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 healthcare institutions policies aimed at protecting this at-risk group should consider avoiding their assignment as first responders, especially if equally trained staff are available.
The researchers concluded that complete awareness of these effects, as well as safety guidelines, will allow for a safer work environment for pregnant healthcare workers.
“This article highlights the impact of COVID-19, a disease about which we still know very little, on the lives of pregnant healthcare workers and the importance of having workplace guidelines aimed at minimizing their exposure to infection,” Letra said.
“This does not mean that pregnant women 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,” said Letra.
“The take-home message is that with proper personal protective equipment, they can still work safely,” Letra said.
The study, “Considerations for Pregnant Dental and Healthcare Workers Amid COVID-19,” was published by JDR Clinical & Translational Research.