Can a pregnant woman transmit the coronavirus to her child? Since the start of the Covid-19 epidemic, this question has been bothering doctors and a few cases of babies born positive for SARS-CoV-2 have challenged the scientific community. A small Italian study released on July 9 provides an argument for maternal transmission.
According to this work, described as “solid evidence” by the authors, mothers who are positive for Covid-19 can transmit the virus to their unborn child.
Coronavirus found in placenta, umbilical cord, vagina and breast milk
For their research, scientists affiliated with the University of Milan studied 31 pregnant women in their third trimester of pregnancy, infected with coronavirus and hospitalized. They then detected the presence of the virus in a term placenta, the umbilical cord, a woman’s vagina and in breast milk. They also identified specific Covid-19 antibodies in umbilical cords in several women as well as in milk samples.
The research team also identified a specific inflammatory response triggered by Covid-19 in these women in the blood plasma of the placenta and the umbilical cord.
None of the infants born during the study period were positive for Covid-19, reports Professor Claudio Fenizia, immunologist and lead author of the study, to AFP. Despite this, the researcher states that these results “strongly suggest” that in utero transmission is possible.
Consequences for infants?
The scientists’ conclusions that could have an impact on the care of pregnant women during the epidemic. And “given the number of people infected worldwide, the number of women likely to be affected by this phenomenon could be potentially very high,” said Professor Fenizia.
But “although in utero transmission seems possible, it is too early to clearly assess the risk and the potential consequences”, he continues.
For its part, the World Health Organization (WHO) had indicated in June that mothers infected with the new coronavirus should continue to breastfeed. “We know that children are at relatively low risk for Covid-19, but are at high risk for many other diseases and conditions that breastfeeding prevents,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
One piece of advice: prevention
The next step for the Milan researchers is to re-test more pregnant women who are Covid-19 positive, including women who are in their first trimester.
The objective of this work is to “raise awareness and invite the scientific community to consider pregnancy in HIV-positive women as an urgent subject to further characterize and dissect”, says Professor Fenizia. “I believe that promoting prevention is the surest advice we could possibly give to these patients right now,” he concludes.
Mandell is currently working towards a medical degree from the University of Central Florida. His main passions include kayaking, playing soccer and tasting good food. He covers mostly science, health and environmental stories for the Scientific Origin.