The alerts have been sent to maternity staff across the country after postmortems identified Covid-19 infection of the placenta as a factor in four recent stillbirths.
Following the postmortem findings, two separate coroners took the unusual step of contacting the HSE directly with their concerns, according to The Irish Times. In some of the cases, the women had virus symptoms and were unwell but in at least one case, the woman had no symptoms.
The stillbirths, which occurred in the first two months of this year, have yet to be examined at inquests, which are not bound to follow the findings of the postmortems.
Dr Ronan Glynn, deputy chief medical officer, said on Thursday evening: “We have been made aware of four preliminary reports of stillbirths potentially associated with a condition called Covid Placentitis.
“These reports should be interpreted with caution as the coroners have not yet concluded their findings. The HSE’s National Women and Infants Programme is aware of and is monitoring the situation and has issued a related notice to obstetric departments.
“I would ask that the privacy of all of those affected by this disease continue to be respected at all times.”
Meanwhile, while international experience showed it was “not unusual” for Covid-19 to cause placental infection, stillbirth was an “unusual complication”, Prof Peter McKenna, head of the HSE women and infants health programme, told The Irish Times.
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The fact four stillbirths had occurred in a short time and among the small population of women with Covid-19 had raised concerns, prompting the HSE to issue the alert, he said.
Despite the absence of international evidence for Covid-related stillbirth, it was decided to issue the alert on a precautionary basis.
In each of the cases, pathologists found the placenta from the women who had Covid was inflamed, thereby impairing blood flow to the fetus.
There has been no overall increase in stillbirths during the pandemic, research from the US and UK indicates.