Frontline maternity healthcare workers provide ongoing care to many people throughout their pregnancies, in addition to caring for those admitted to hospitals for delivery. Maternity healthcare workers have continued meeting the needs of pregnant people throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. And although COVID-19 may seem like a milder illness in some pregnant patients, we are just beginning to get an idea of the risk of transmission between maternity healthcare staff and patients.
A recent investigation into the number of undiagnosed SARS-CoV-2 infections among maternity healthcare workers was carried out in London, UK. Instead of relying on the nasal swab-based PCR assay with which we’ve all become so familiar, blood tests were used to look for antibodies against the virus, which would indicate previous infection. Out of 200 healthcare workers practicing in maternity wards, 14.5 percent (29 of 200 total) had antibodies against the virus, despite never having been diagnosed with COVID-19.
This is in contrast to other types of healthcare professionals working in London who are more likely to be in direct contact with symptomatic COVID-19 patients, such as those working in the emergency department. Antibody testing in 200 such frontline healthcare staff revealed 45.3 percent had been infected with SARS-CoV-2.
Though the on-the-job risk of infection may be lower for those on the maternity frontlines than in other departments, the potential transmission risk posed to their colleagues, as well as to pregnant patients and their babies, is concerning. Out of the 29 maternity healthcare professionals with SARS-CoV-2 antibodies, 17 self-reported that they had continued working throughout the pandemic, either because they had been asymptomatic entirely or, if they did have symptoms, their symptoms did not qualify them for self-isolation at the time.