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  • Julie Foley

This is a difficult time for fertility clients with treatments cancelled,the following is an outline

Assisted reproduction and COVID-19

A statement from ESHRE for phase 1 In view of the continuing prevalence of infection from the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 (i.e. the virus causing COVID-19) and widespread initiatives to limit its spread, ESHRE reaffirms its recommendation to follow local and national government advice, particularly national daily updates.

The available evidence To date, there is no clear evidence of any negative effect of SARS-CoV-2 infection on pregnancy, as indicated by the latest updates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the USA and others in Europe.[1, 2] Even so, we should be mindful that viral infections can be more problematic for pregnant women and acknowledge that some of the medications used in virus-infected patients may not be recommended during pregnancy.

Recent updates on pregnancy outcomes in infected mothers report healthy infants born free of the disease.[3] However, there are small case series reporting adverse outcomes, such as premature rupture of membranes and preterm delivery.[4] Neonatal SARS-CoV-2 infection (five cases) [5-7] and the presence of IgM (and IgG) antibodies against the virus in newborns (three cases) [8, 9] have also been reported. It is unclear whether these data are indicative of vertical transmission of SARS-CoV-2.


An up-to-date overview of data extracted from all published reports on pregnancy and neonatal outcomes in women with confirmed COVID-19 is available from the Cochrane Gynaecology and Fertility Group (https://cgf.cochrane.org/news/covid-19-coronavirus-disease-fertility-and-pregnancy). In general, the data on pregnancy outcomes, although reassuring, only report small numbers and must be interpreted with caution. Furthermore, as reports mainly refer to infection in the third trimester, there is no information on the possible effect of SARS-CoV-2 infection on pregnancies in their initial stages.[10]

ESHRE’s guidance In view of the above considerations and outcomes reported in cases of other coronavirus infections (such as SARS and MERS) [11, 12], ESHRE continues to recommend a precautionary approach to assisted reproduction, which is consistent with the position of other scientific societies in reproductive medicine. During the pandemic, all medical professionals have a duty to avoid contributing additional stress to a healthcare system that in many locations is already overloaded.

ESHRE advises that assisted reproduction treatments should not be started at present for the following reasons:

- To avoid complications from assisted reproduction treatment and pregnancy - To avoid potential SARS-CoV-2 related complications during pregnancy - To mitigate the unknown risk of vertical transmission in SARS-CoV-2 positive patients - To support the necessary reallocation of healthcare resources - To observe the current recommendations of social distancing.

In cases of urgent fertility preservation in oncology patients, the cryopreservation of gametes, embryos or tissue should still be considered. For those patients having started assisted reproduction treatment at the present time, elective oocyte or embryo freezing for later embryo transfer (freeze-all) is recommended.

Any risk of viral contamination to gametes and embryos in the IVF laboratory, either from infected patients or professionals, is likely to be minimal (if at all) because the repeated washing steps required for the culture and freezing protocols will result in a high dilution of any possible contaminants.Even with no specific data available, it is assumed that sperm, oocytes and embryos are unlikely to be infected. Furthermore, the zona pellucida represents a high level of protection for oocytes and embryos. Regardless of the biological details, it is prudent to defer all elective fertility-promoting medical procedures, primarily to maintain social distancing and protect any and all medical resources.


Since many uncertainties remain about the effects of SARS-CoV-2 infection on ART and pregnancy, and despite different approaches among treatment centres and countries, ESHRE currently considers any risk too high when similar treatments can be performed at a later date.

Healthcare professionals and clinics should remain available to provide supportive care , psychological support and clinical advice to their patients, preferably via online consultation. As always, good clinical and laboratory practice is strongly recommended by ESHRE to guarantee safety for processed tissues and cells, professionals and patients. [13, 14]

ESHRE will continue to monitor the scientific literature and this statement will be regularly updated.

The ESHRE COVID-19 working group is presently preparing recommendations for clinics planning to restart ART services. These will consider patient selection, general and specific organisation of services and good laboratory and clinical practice, with an emphasis on both patient and professional safety and responsibilities. References 1. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prepare/pregnancy- breastfeeding.html?CDC_AA_refVal=https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/specific- groups/pregnancy-faq.html 2. https://www.rcog.org.uk/globalassets/documents/guidelines/2020-03-28-covid19-pregnancy- guidance.pdf 3. Schwartz DA, An Analysis of 38 Pregnant Women with COVID-19, Their Newborn Infants, and Maternal-Fetal Transmission of SARS-CoV-2: Maternal Coronavirus Infections and Pregnancy Outcomes. Arch Pathol Lab Med, 2020. https://doi.org/10.5858/arpa.2020-0901-SA 4. Liu Y, Chen H, Tang K, et al., Clinical manifestations and outcome of SARS-CoV-2 infection during pregnancy. J Infect, 2020. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jinf.2020.02.028 5. Yu N, Li W, Kang Q, et al., Clinical features and obstetric and neonatal outcomes of pregnant patients with COVID-19 in Wuhan, China: a retrospective, single-centre, descriptive study. Lancet Infect Dis, 2020. https://doi.org/10.1016/S1473-3099(20)30176-6 6. Wang X, Zhou Z, Zhang J, et al., A case of 2019 Novel Coronavirus in a pregnant woman with preterm delivery. Clin Infect Dis, 2020. https://doi.org/10.1093/cid/ciaa200 7. Zeng L, Xia S, Yuan W, et al., Neonatal Early-Onset Infection With SARS-CoV-2 in 33 Neonates Born to Mothers With COVID-19 in Wuhan, China. JAMA Pediatr, 2020. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamapediatrics.2020.0878 8. Dong L, Tian J, He S, et al., Possible Vertical Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 From an Infected Mother to Her Newborn. Jama, 2020. https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.2020.4621 9. Zeng H, Xu C, Fan J, et al., Antibodies in Infants Born to Mothers With COVID-19 Pneumonia. JAMA, 2020. https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.2020.4861 10. Liang H and Acharya G, Novel corona virus disease (COVID-19) in pregnancy: What clinical recommendations to follow? Acta Obstet Gynecol Scand, 2020. https://doi.org/10.1111/aogs.13836 11. Schwartz DA and Graham AL, Potential Maternal and Infant Outcomes from (Wuhan) Coronavirus 2019-nCoV Infecting Pregnant Women: Lessons from SARS, MERS, and Other Human Coronavirus Infections. Viruses, 2020. 12 (2). https://doi.org/10.3390/v12020194 12. Rasmussen SA, Smulian JC, Lednicky JA, et al., Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) and Pregnancy: What obstetricians need to know. Am J Obstet Gynecol, 2020. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ajog.2020.02.017 13. ESHRE Guideline Group on Good Practice in IVF Labs, De los Santos MJ, Apter S, et al., Revised guidelines for good practice in IVF laboratories (2015)†. Hum Reprod, 2016. 31: 685- 686. https://doi.org/10.1093/humrep/dew016 14. European Directorate for the Quality of Medicines (EDQM), Guide to the quality and safety of tissues and cells for human application 2019: https://register.edqm.eu/freepub.


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