Pregnant women may transmit coronavirus to their babies, study shows

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Pregnant women may transmit coronavirus to their babies through breast milk, umbilical cord blood, placenta, and vaginas, according to a study.

The new research suggests that the virus can be transmitted to fetuses and newborns. Coronavirus and antibodies against it were found in the umbilical cord blood, vaginas, placentas, and breast milk.

The study was able to detect two infants in the study who tested positive for the virus, but both swiftly recovered.

Claudio Fenizia, an assistant professor of immunology at the University of Milan and lead author of the study, said that a baby tested negative for the coronavirus two days later. This means that the infant was already exhibiting antibodies against the virus in the womb.

According to Fenizia, the assessment of 31 pregnant women is preliminary and was influenced by factors. With this, it appears too early to make a conclusion on pregnant women infected by the virus. “Our study should be considered a ringing bell to raise awareness that [transmission] is possible,” he noted.

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He recommends further research in the area, which is currently being conducted in some places.

While the entire study is not yet available, an abstract with results was published Thursday, one day before the worldwide conference on Covid-19 scheduled for Friday. The study shares similar observations with previous reports on a small number of infected women in China.

Diana W. Bianchi, director of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, believes the findings inconclusive. She said there is uncertainty even in cases in which a baby is positive with coronavirus. It goes the same for children who were contaminated by bodily fluids from an infected mother during delivery or Caesarean section.

She also mentioned a May study by Northwestern University that revealed the damage to the blood vessels in 16 placentas. The researchers reported insufficient blood flow from mother to fetus and blood clots in vessels of the placenta.

Fenizia and colleagues investigated 31 women with the coronavirus in three hospitals in Milan in March and April. Since they were late in their pregnancies, the impact of the virus on the early stages of gestation could not be completely determined.

Observations disclosed that the virus itself was in one woman’s vagina, one woman’s umbilical cord blood, one woman’s placenta, and one woman’s breast milk. Meanwhile, nine were found with antibodies in umbilical cord blood and one appeared in breast milk.

For Fenizia, the study emphasizes the importance to observe pregnant mothers and babies for signs of inflammation, especially after an alarming inflammatory syndrome linked to covid-19 that targeted children in the US.

He noted that there are no proven interventions for pregnant women who tested positive for the coronavirus, stressing that prevention is the best approach.

In its guidance for pregnant women, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that pregnant women “might be at increased risk for severe illness” from Covid-19.

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