TUESDAY, July 5, 2022 (HealthDay News) — Maternal mortality significantly increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a research letter published online June 28 in JAMA Network Open.

Marie E. Thoma, Ph.D., from University of Maryland in College Park, and Eugene R. Declercq, Ph.D., from Boston University, analyzed deidentified U.S. National Center for Health Statistics mortality and natality files from 2018 to 2020 to examine the pandemic’s role in 2020 maternal death rates.

The researchers found 18.8 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births before the pandemic versus 25.1 per 100,000 during the pandemic (April to December 2020), a relative increase of 33.3 percent. There was a 41 percent increase seen in late maternal mortality. Both absolute and relative changes were highest for Hispanic (8.9 per 100,000 live births and 74.2 percent, respectively) and non-Hispanic Black (16.8 per 100,000 and 40.2 percent, respectively) versus non-Hispanic White women (2.9 per 100,000 and 17.2 percent, respectively). For quarters 2 to 4 in 2020, a secondary code for COVID-19 was listed in 14.9 percent of maternal deaths versus zero in quarter 1. The largest relative increase in underlying cause-of-death codes was among indirect causes (56.9 percent), specifically other viral diseases (2,374.7 percent), diseases of the respiratory system (117.7 percent), and diseases of the circulatory system (72.1 percent). It was common for COVID-19 to be listed as a secondary condition with other viral diseases (16 of 16 deaths) and diseases of the respiratory system (11 of 19 deaths).

“In the United States, maternal deaths increased substantially (33.3 percent) after March 2020, corresponding to COVID-19 onset, a figure higher than the 22 percent overall excess death estimate associated with the pandemic,” the authors write.

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