Study: Pregnant women can pass on coronavirus to unborn children


Study: Pregnant women can pass on coronavirus to unborn children

Associate editor - news/health

Friday, July 10, 2020

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IT is possible for a pregnant woman to transmit the virus that causes COVID-19, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), to her unborn child, scientists from Italy reported yesterday.

This was revealed in a study done among 31 pregnant women with the disease — which has resulted in the death of more than 550,000 people globally and the infection of more than 12 million — who delivered their babies between March and April.

The virus was found in an at-term placenta and in the umbilical cord blood, in the vagina of a pregnant woman and in milk.

However, Claudio Fenizia, an assistant professor at the University of Milan who presented the findings at a virtual press conference hosted by the International AIDS Society ahead of today's virtual COVID-19 conference, advised that the results are preliminary and more investigation is necessary.

“Our results strongly suggest and support the vertical transmission in two cases out of the 31 studied,” Fenizia said yesterday.

But he cautioned that “the number of women we enrolled is not wide enough to draw any firm conclusion; this has to be intended as a preliminary study. And also, we basically took a picture of the women in Italy during the beginning of the infection; it means that it's a big question mark what would happen if women get infected earlier on during the pregnancies…”

The researcher, however, said that the data suggests “vertical transmission [of SARS-CoV-2] during pregnancies is, indeed, possible”.

Questions have previously been raised as to whether a pregnant woman with COVID-19 could pass the virus to her foetus or baby during pregnancy or delivery, much like is possible with the human immunodeficiency virus. The finding, though not conclusive, is the “first ringing bell”, according to the University of Milan assistant professor.

“Further studies should be performed on a wider sample and covering different gestational ages of the pregnancy,” he said, but insisted that it should raise awareness about SARS-CoV-2 on pregnancies — a topic, he said, that isn't well-studied.

“Both babies were healthy and in good condition, and even if one tested positive repeatedly for approximately a week, and the other one was positive just right after birth… considering the fact that these mothers were infected less than two weeks before delivery, on average, really… I didn't expect too much of an impact of baby development or any other health parameter,” Fenizia said.

The findings of the Italian study, In-utero mother-to-child SARS-CoV-2 transmission — viral detection and fetal immune response, are just one of the areas to be explored at today's virtual COVID-19 conference, which the International AIDS Society (IAS) says is the world's first abstract-driven scientific meeting dedicated to the global pandemic. The study was selected from about 140 scientific abstracts being presented at the conference.

“We convened this conference to tackle the many urgent questions related to COVID-19 epidemiology, prevention, treatment and care,” IAS President Anton Pozniak said. “The studies presented at this gathering underwent rigorous scientific vetting and capture critical insights from the front lines in hard-hit communities worldwide.”

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci, who has been providing scientific leadership on COVID-19 in the United States and globally, is expected to speak at the COVID-19 conference. Other speakers include Bill Gates, Jane Goodall, World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, US Coronavirus Task Force Coordinator Deborah Birx, and Professor Salim Abdool Karim of the Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa.

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