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Maternal deaths climbed 33% during COVID-19

Maternal deaths in the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic increased 33%—and even higher in Black and Hispanic women—according to data from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) published yesterday in a study in JAMA Network Open.

That rate compares with an overall 22% COVID-related excess death rate during the study, period, according to two researchers from the University of Maryland (UMD) and Boston University (BU), who conducted the study. They defined maternal mortality as deaths during pregnancy or just after birth.

Rates rise 40% to 78% in minority women

The investigators used NCHS data from 2018 through 2020 to compare pre-pandemic with pandemic death rates.

They found that 1,588 deaths occurred before the pandemic, or 18.8 per 100,000 births, compared with 648 from March through December 2020 (the pandemic period), or 25.1 per 100,000 births, for an overall increase of 33.3%. And they found that late maternal mortality (42 days to 1 year after birth) increased 41%.

Maternal mortality increased the most in Hispanic women (78.0%, or an increase of 8.9 per 100,000 births) and Black women (40.2%; 16.8), compared with 17.2% in White women (2.9).

A secondary diagnostic code for COVID-19 was listed in 14.9% of maternal deaths in quarters 2 to 4 of 2020, with 0% in quarter 1. This percentage was highest among Hispanic women (32.1%), followed by Black (12.9%) and White (7.3%) women.

For underlying cause-of-death codes, the authors determined that the largest relative increase was among indirect causes (56.9%), specifically other viral diseases (2,374.7%), diseases of the respiratory system (117.7%), and diseases of the circulatory system (72.1%). Relative increases in direct causes (27.7%) were mostly associated

covid-19 death pandemic
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