COVID-19 didn't affect miscarriage rate in Israel - study

Researchers expected to find more miscarriages because of the mental stress of the pandemic and among those infected.

A doctor examines a pregnant woman at a hospital in the province of Fayoum (photo credit: REUTERS)
A doctor examines a pregnant woman at a hospital in the province of Fayoum
(photo credit: REUTERS)

Although the COVID-19 lockdowns caused a great deal of anxiety among pregnant women, no change was found in the rate of spontaneous abortions in Israel between March 2020 and the end of the third wave of the epidemic at the end of April 2021. 

This was found by a study conducted at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology and the University of Haifa. The study collected data from 252,858 members of Meuhedet Health Services aged 15 and 44.

The study looked into the rate of miscarriages during this time because "on the one hand, the mental stress during the epidemic, as well as possible infection with COVID, could have increased the rate of spontaneous abortions. 

"On the other hand, the lockdown policy forced us all to stay at home, which may have actually lowered the rate of spontaneous abortions as a result of lower-than-usual physical exertion. Either way, the findings show that there was no significant change in the rate of abortions,” said Prof. Stephen Levine of the Faculty of Social Welfare and Health Sciences at the University of Haifa’s School of Public Health, who was one of the authors.

Between 11% and 20% of known pregnancies end in spontaneous abortion, which is defined as a natural abortion that occurs during the first 20 weeks of pregnancy. Spontaneous abortions are related, among other things, to chromosomal problems in the fetus, exposure to certain substances and infections during pregnancy and other factors related to environmental effects on the pregnant person.

 Pregnant woman (Illustrative) (credit: Wikimedia Commons) Pregnant woman (Illustrative) (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

According to the researchers, the pandemic was a complex event with bio-psychological characteristics that could have caused widespread social trauma, so it could be expected that it could affect the rate of spontaneous abortions.

In a study published in the journal JAMA Network Open entitled “Rates of Spontaneous Abortion in Israel Before and During the COVID-19 Pandemic,” the researchers sought to characterize the relationship between the epidemic and the rate of spontaneous abortions in Israel.

In addition to Levine, the research was conducted by Dr. Yael Travis-Lomer and Prof. Yair Goldberg from the Faculty of Data and Decision Sciences at the Technion, Prof. Arad Kodesh from the Meuhedet health fund and the department of community mental health at the University of Haifa; Prof. Abraham Reichenberg and Prof. Sven Sandin from the Department of Psychiatry at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, Prof. Sofia Frango from the psychiatry department at the University of British Columbia. 

According to Travis-Lomer, “to examine the effect of the pandemic on the rate of abortions in Israel we must take into account possible trends before and during this period as well as the seasonal effects."

What did the study reveal about COVID and miscarriages?

The results of the study show that during the three waves of the virus in Israel, no change was observed in the rate of spontaneous abortions. In the period before the pandemic, the monthly rate of spontaneous abortions ranged from 20% to 25% of the reported pregnancies, while during the relevant period, this rate ranged from 20% to 26.5%. When the researchers compared the rate of spontaneous abortions during the corona period to the expected rate of abortions for this period if the corona epidemic had not occurred, a slight increase in the rate of spontaneous abortions was found, but this increase is not statistically significant. 

“During the research period that preceded the pandemic in Israel, (January 2017 to February 2020), the rate of spontaneous abortions in Israel remained stable. During the period of the pandemic (March 2020 to April 2021), there was a slight increase in the rate of spontaneous abortions in Israel, but no significant change was found in this rate," said Levine.

“Although the monthly rate of spontaneous abortions remained stable during the entire study period, it is possible that this rate will change in the future depending on other factors. We must continue to monitor this figure in the near future,” the researchers concluded.