Ever since the pandemic burst, doctors have wondered whether in-the-womb infection could occur. As other viruses can infect a fetus this way, the possibility that coronavirus might too was something that had to be confirmed.
A study was conducted in Italy in order to determine whether a pregnant woman infected with the coronavirus might be able to spread it to her fetus or not.
A total of 31 women with COVID-19 who delivered babies in March and April were closely monitored. The team of researchers discovered signs of the virus in several samples of umbilical cord blood, the placenta and, in one case, breast milk.
These signs that were found don’t necessarily point to an existence of a 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.
A new study was conducted and it involved women at three hospitals during the height of the outbreak in northern Italy. Researchers found the virus’s genetic material in one umbilical cord blood sample, two vaginal swabs and one breast milk sample. Specific, anti-coronavirus antibodies were also found in umbilical cord blood and in milk.
It seems like one of the cases showed “strong evidence suggesting that the newborn was born already positive because we found the virus in the umbilical cord blood and in the placenta,” Fenizia said.
In a different case, a newborn had antibodies to the coronavirus that do not cross the placenta. As they couldn’t have possibly come from the mother, their existence was “due to direct exposure of the fetus to the virus,” Fenizia said.
As only two of the newborns tested positive for the coronavirus at birth and neither became ill from it, Fenizia concluded that the possibility of fetal infection seems relatively rare.
The studies add to evidence that in-womb transmission is possible. However, it appears to be rather rare and to not cause worrying problems in the infants.