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Foetal coronavirus infection is possible

A small study supports evidence that a pregnant woman infected with the coronavirus might be able to spread it to her foetus.

Since the start of the pandemic, doctors have wondered whether infection could occur in the womb. HIV, Zika and some other viruses can infect a foetus this way. Several early reports from China suggested the coronavirus might, too, although doctors suspect those women may have spread the virus to their babies during or after birth.

Pregnant Women should not be in panic. This doesn’t mean there’s viable virus in those places and “it’s too early to make guidelines” or to change care, said the study leader, Dr Claudio Fenizia, an immunology specialist at the University of Milan. But it does merit more study, especially of women who are infected earlier in their pregnancies than these women, said Fenizia, who discussed the results at a medical conference being held online because of the pandemic. There is strong evidence suggesting that the newborn was born already positive because virus was found in the umbilical cord blood and in the placenta.

In another case, a newborn had antibodies to the coronavirus that do not cross the placenta, so they did not come from the mother and were “due to direct exposure of the foetus to the virus,” Fenizia said.

The virus’s genetic material was found in one umbilical cord blood sample, two vaginal swabs and one breast milk sample. Researchers also found specific, anti-coronavirus antibodies in umbilical cord blood and in milk. Dr Anton Pozniak, a conference leader and virus expert at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in London, said the implications of the Italian research “have to be worked out.” Children under age 3 rarely get seriously ill from coronavirus, and “I would suspect that even if there was transmission to babies, it was not harmful,” he said. UNICEF, the United Nations’ children’s agency, recommends that new moms with COVID-19 wear a mask while breastfeeding, he added.

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