Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been concerns surrounding whether the coronavirus can be transmitted from a pregnant mum to her foetus. While there are experts who stand for it being unlikely, growing research have found that it could be possible.
According to a study published in the journal Nature Communications on Tuesday (14 Jul), there is strong evidence to back researchers’ claim that COVID-19 could be transmitted in utero.
Baby Infected With COVID-19 in Womb
A 23-year-old pregnant mother who was tested positive for COVID-19 reportedly gave birth in a Paris hospital in March. A brain scan revealed that her baby developed symptoms of inflammation in the brain.
According to the study authors, the baby tested negative for other viruses or bacterial infections that could have caused such symptoms. Blood and fluid from his lungs, however, was tested positive for coronavirus infection.
Dr. Daniele De Luca, research team lead and Chief of paediatrics and neonatal critical care at Paris-Saclay University Hospitals said that the team was able to test the placenta, amniotic fluid, cord blood, and the mother’s and baby’s blood.
The “virus appeared to have been transmitted through [her] placenta,” said Dr. De Luca.
Baby Infected With COVID-19 in Womb: researchers shows evidence of placental transmission. Photo: iStock
In addition, “the highest levels of the coronavirus” found in the placenta were “higher than those in the amniotic fluid and in the blood of the mother and baby”, according to the authors.
To which, Dr. De Luca suggested the possibility of the virus replicating in placental cells.
The sentiment of placental transmission was also shared by Dr. Yoel Sadovsky, executive director of Magee-Womens Research Institute at the University of Pittsburgh, who was not involved in the study.
According to him, they “are all consistent with SARS-CoV-2 infection”, from the relatively high levels of the coronavirus found in the placenta, rising levels of virus in the baby and the evidence of placental inflammation, along with the baby’s symptoms.
Mother Was 35 Weeks Pregnant
The 23-year-old mum was reportedly down with fever and a cough just days before she was tested positive for coronavirus. This was despite experiencing a healthy pregnancy, which was at 35 weeks when she arrived at the hospital ill.
Her baby was delivered by emergency caesarean section three days later, after signs of distress was observed through monitoring of his heart.
According to the study authors, the baby was placed in the neonatal intensive care unit and connected to a ventilator for about six hours.
The baby “seemed to be doing well”, until the third day when he became irritable, had trouble feeding and was experiencing muscle spasms and rigidity.
However, despite the ordeal, both mother and her now more than 3 months baby have recovered and are now healthy.
The baby has recovered without treatment and has left the hospital after 18 days. He is “very much improved, almost clinically normal,” said Dr. De Luca.
“The good news is that the baby recovered spontaneously and gradually despite all this, and this confirms that the disease is milder in early infancy.”
While the claim of placental transmission still stands, Dr. Sadovsky said that it is important to note that possible cases of COVID-19 transmission in utero are considered “extremely rare”.
Still, the analysis of such suspected cases of placental transmission of the coronavirus will help guide experts in managing the health of pregnant women and their unborn babies.
“This will be helpful for clinicians and policymakers in order to manage pregnant women, check neonates and reduce the risk of viral transmission from mothers to neonates,” said Dr. De Luca.
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