The Japan Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology and other organizations on Monday released guidelines listing specific symptoms that mean pregnant COVID-19 patients isolating at home should call an ambulance.
The guidelines were published after a pregnant woman with COVID-19 in Chiba Prefecture lost her baby after she was unable to find a hospital and gave birth prematurely at her home.
The document calls on pregnant COVID-19 patients isolating at home to make contact with obstetricians and gynecologists or local public health centers when they experience shortness of breath more than twice in an hour or when their heart or breathing rate tops 110 times or 20 times a minute, respectively.
If their blood oxygen saturation level falls to 93% to 94% and does not rise above that level within one hour, they need to seek advice from their doctor or a public health center, according to the guidelines.
The guidelines urge pregnant patients to call an ambulance immediately if they are unable to hold a short conversation due to shortness of breath or if their blood oxygen saturation levels fall to 92% or below.
Some experts say that COVID-19 patients at 28 weeks of pregnancy or later are likely to develop more severe symptoms than those at an earlier stage.
A health ministry survey has found that the risk of developing severe COVID-19 symptoms is 1.24 times higher among women at 25 weeks of pregnancy or later than those at an earlier stage.
Also Monday, internal affairs minister Ryota Takeda said authorities will make a list of hospitals able to admit pregnant women with COVID-19.
The health ministry and the Fire and Disaster Management Agency will ask prefectural governments to share the list among local paramedics, Takeda told a news conference.
"We need to ensure that expectant mothers with COVID-19 are taken to the hospital without fail when obstetric intervention becomes necessary for them," Takeda said.
There have been delays in taking pregnant women with COVID-19 to hospital due to difficulty finding institutions that will admit them, according to officials at the health and internal affairs ministries.
Meanwhile, Aichi Gov. Hideaki Omura said that the prefecture will give preference to pregnant women for COVID-19 inoculations at its seven mass vaccination sites.
Expectant mothers can receive a shot at the venues without a reservation starting Monday. Their husbands and partners are also eligible for inoculations there.
Kagawa Gov. Keizo Hamada said his prefecture will launch a similar program in the second week of September. Wakayama Prefecture and Himeji, Hyogo Prefecture, will also follow suit.
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