COVID-19 has created new health challenges for women, particularly expectant moms. Dr. Catherine Spong, Chair of UT Southwestern’s Ob/Gyn Department, discusses the risks, as well as the top treatments, screenings, and preventive measures for women during the pandemic.
with so many women's health issues. Top of mind, we're dedicating this episode to addressing what many of you are asking from vaccines for pregnant women to advancements in cancer screening. This is our first of what will be many visits with chairs of academic departments here at UT Southwestern and kicking off the series is dr Catherine spong our new chair of Obstetrics and gynecology. Thanks for joining us. Dr spong Covid 19 has presented new challenges for all of us. What's the biggest challenge to the health of women? I think, you know, for women, especially women who already had limited access to care? The pandemic accentuated that challenge of getting medical care in a timely fashion. I think with remote work and school that burden to women was just increased because of enhanced demands at home and the limited again, ability to get out to get the care that they need for us. The biggest challenge lately has been to convey accurate information about the benefits of Covid 19 vaccination. Um and especially for women who are pregnant, who have who might have been given misleading or incorrect information which led them to decline vaccination altogether. Dr spong we're seeing a sharp rise and hospitalizations among pregnant women with covid. Yet only 30% are vaccinated. What would you say to women that are worried about the vaccine. So the risk of morbidity and mortality from Covid is absolutely real. We are seeing young healthy pregnant women requiring high levels of oxygen ventilation and for some, even ECMO which is basically a heart, lung bypass that pumps and oxygenates blood outside the body to allow the lungs and the heart to rest and being on ECMO for months, the rise in hospitalization and pregnant women with the most recent delta surge has been alarming and is clearly preventable by vaccination. DR Emily Adhikari, our medical director of perinatal infectious disease, has been tracking our cases and recently reported this increased severity scene with the delta variant and that was actually covered by the Dallas morning news, 97% of pregnant women hospitalized with covid were unvaccinated. So vaccination is clearly the most effective way to reliably prevent both infection and severe illness, which can be devastating. Many are asking if there's a link between infertility and the Covid 19 vaccine, is there There's currently no evidence that any vaccines included, including Covid 19 can cause fertility problems in women or in men. There is clearly reassuring both safety data as well as efficacy data of using the vaccines in pregnancy. The CDC recommends covid 19 vaccination for all people, 12 years and older, including people who are pregnant breastfeeding, trying to become pregnant now or might become pregnant in the future. So although I fully understand those concerns the risk of covid outweighs those concerns. Some women have reported a change in their menstrual cycle after vaccination. Is there any reason for concern? So this is an important question in the recognition that this question drives vaccine hesitancy as does the question about infertility In the United Kingdom. They tracked this and in fact they found that people who reported a change in their menses after vaccination, it returned to normal the following cycle. And they found no evidence that the vaccine affected fertility. The National Institutes of Health recently awarded supplemental grants to five institutions to explore the potential link between COVID-19, vaccination and mental changes. But let me just emphasize there has been no adverse impact of vaccine on fertility. Doctor We're in the middle of flu season now, what advice do you have for women this flu season? Absolutely. As in past flu seasons, I would emphasize the importance of early vaccination for both influenza and for covid 19. These can be given at the same time. The flu vaccine has been updated. Um It they are quite prevalent this year, meaning that they will protect against four different flu viruses too To influenza a viruses and two influenza B viruses. Given that reduced population immunity because there was really not much of a flu virus activity last year since 2020. That could result in fact in an earlier and possibly more severe flu season this year. So really encouraging people to get the flu vaccine. Now, certainly before the end of October and remember that it takes about two weeks to develop the antibiotics to protect against the flu. Um two other key points to me are that we should remember what we learned with Covid 19 at masking social distancing and hand hygiene were quite effective in mitigating influenza transmission as well. Doctor Song september was ovarian cancer awareness month. We've talked a lot on this program about cancer awareness. Tell us about the clinical programs and research going on at UT Southwestern related to ovarian cancer. Ovarian cancer, early detection and treatment are both robust areas of interest here. At UT Southwestern DR J lee has been studying ovarian cancer signals from women's immune system using a system that detects ovarian cancer associated t cells in her blood as a biomarker for early stage ovarian cancer, which holds much promise furthermore, her work with Dr Lee Kraus in the Green center have identified biomarkers to help predict sensitivity depart inhibitors inhibitors are have been identified as a method to prevent recurrence through stopping cancer cells with damaged DNA from repairing themselves and replicating with recurrent reduction in ovarian cancer. Certain subgroups of about 40 to 70% Maintaining our own health has never been more challenging than it's been during this pandemic. What advice do you have for women for maintaining healthy lives during the pandemic. First and foremost is preventative care. Don't forget to get the routine health care that you need to seek out the vaccines for which you are eligible. Whether it's COVID-19 influenza or the HPV vaccine. These vaccines will help our body's immune systems to provide protection against potential infectious diseases have a healthy lifestyle. Um, I encourage diet and exercise. I encourage people to manage their medical conditions. Um As a as an obstetrician, one of the key points for me is to have patients optimize their medical conditions prior to entering pregnancy. So if you have high blood pressure or if you're overweight try to reduce your blood pressure and to get to a normal weight. Trying to prior to starting pregnancy dr spong many of us are just getting around to our annual physical now as we move through the pandemic, what tests and screening should women have every year. It depends on your age. Um But generally things that you need to think about our blood pressure screening to ensure that your blood pressure is within a normal range breast cancer screening which may include exams and or mammograms, cervical cancer screening which may include HPV testing and or pap smears. Colorectal screening which may include stool samples as well as colonoscopy I exams. Um Make certain that you're that you don't need glasses and you don't have other eye diseases such as glaucoma or cataracts. Osteoporosis screening especially as we age and a general physical exam and a good skin exam are also incredibly important. Thank you for joining us and for answering these important questions. Absolutely. It's been my pleasure. Thank you for joining us until next episode. Stay safe and stay healthy