After weeks of uncertainty and ambiguous data, a new study has revealed pregnant women with COVID-19 can indeed pass the virus onto their babies.
Researchers studied at 33 pregnant women in three Chinese hospitals — two of them in Wuhan where the pandemic began — and found three gave birth to babies who tested positive for COVID-19.
All three infants became seriously ill, experiencing symptoms ranging from shortness of breath, fever, lethargy, vomiting and pneumonia.
The good news is that all three — including one infant born nine weeks early — responded well to treatment and managed to shed the virus in just one week.
The study, published on March 26 by JAMA Paediatrics, found the premature infant tested negative by Day 7 but required a ventilator and a week of antibiotics to treat neonatal respiratory distress, pneumonia and sepsis.
However, the authors said it was likely those complications were caused by the baby being premature rather then the coronavirus known as SARS-CoV-2.
The other two newborns were delivered at full term, one at 40 weeks’ gestation and the other at 40 weeks and 4 days.
Both infants were described as “lethargic” and “feverish” with signs of pneumonia in their lungs, and one suffered fits of vomiting.
One tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 two days after birth and the other on the fourth. By day six, however, both babies were virus free.
While the results suggest children have some sort of in-built protection against the disease that is yet to be fully understood, the study authors warned screening of pregnant women was “crucial”.
“The clinical symptoms from 33 neonates with or at risk of COVID-19 were mild and outcomes were favourable,” the authors wrote.
“Because strict infection control and prevention procedures were implemented during the delivery, it is likely that the sources of SARS-CoV-2 in the neonates … were maternal in origin.
“Therefore, it is crucial to screen pregnant women and implement strict infection control measures, quarantine of infected mothers, and close monitoring of neonates at risk of COVID-19.”
“Because strict infection control and prevention procedures were implemented during the delivery, it is likely that the sources of SARS-CoV-2 in the neonates … were maternal in origin,” the doctors added. “It is crucial to screen pregnant women and implement strict infection control measures, quarantine of infected mothers, and close monitoring of neonates at risk of COVID-19.”
A US specialist in paediatric infectious diseases, David Kimberlin, told the LA Times he was surprised at how quickly the infected newborns recovered.
Some experts have speculated that because children already pick up and share the four most common coronaviruses — many of which cause mild, flu-like symptoms — their bodies may be steeled against SARS-CoV-2.
But Dr Kimberlin said that theory didn’t explain why newborns were able to fight the virus so effectively since they hadn’t had that kind of exposure. He said it was possible a baby’s immune system was too underdeveloped to mount the kind of extreme response that could lead to further complications and even death.