COVID-19, the viral infection caused by the novel coronavirus, does not appear transmittable from pregnant women to newborns at birth, suggests a case study carried out by Chinese professors. Four babies born to infected women at a hospital in Wuhan, China – the epicenter of the outbreak – did not show signs of infection and are reportedly healthy today, the researchers report.
At the time of publication, the virus has sickened nearly 170,000 people and killed over 6,500, most of whom are in China. According to the most recent numbers published by the World Health Organization, around 3.4 percent of reported COVID-19 cases result in death, though statistics continue to fluctuate as more data is gathered around the globe.
Published in the journal Frontiers in Pediatrics, this is the second report out of China to show evidence that infection during pregnancy does not immediately infect the child. However, it is important to note that a case study simply reports on observations and does not establish causation or confirm findings. All four mothers were exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 during the third trimester such as fever, cough, fatigue, and headaches. One mother reported feeling reduced fetal movement while another had difficulty breathing. Even so, three of the women gave birth to healthy babies via cesarean section and a fourth through vaginal birth.
"To avoid infections caused by perinatal and postnatal transmission, our obstetricians think that C-section may be safer," said study co-author Dr Yalan Liu at Huazhong University of Science and Technology in a statement. "Only one pregnant mother adopted vaginal delivery because of the onset of the labor process. The baby was normal. Maybe vaginal delivery is OK. It needs further study."
Immediately after their birth, researchers isolated the four babies in neonatal intensive care units and were fed formula. Three of the four tested negative for the respiratory infection, the fourth child’s mother did not allow for a throat swab. None of the infants developed any serious symptoms associated with COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus named SARS-CoV-2. However, one baby experienced difficulty breathing for three days and was treated by non-invasive mechanical ventilation. It was deemed that the child suffered from transient tachypnea, a respiratory issue sometimes seen in newborns that typically resolves within 72 hours. That baby and another also experienced body rashes that cleared up on their own, though the rashes were not the same in both babies.
It is unclear whether there is a connection with these medical issues and COVID-19. Previous research from another hospital in China analyzed nine pregnant women who were infected with the virus. They found no evidence that the virus can pass to the child during pregnancy or birth. Similarly, other reported cases of young babies testing positive for COVID-19 were not able to establish if infection was transmitted through the womb or contamination at birth.
In past work studying the effects of coronavirus outbreaks like SARS and MERS, scientists found no evidence of viral transmission from mother to child, but did find connections between stillbirth, maternal mortality, miscarriage, and preterm delivery, according to a 2016 case study.
As the pandemic progresses, researchers add that there remains little understanding of infant and childhood infections. More investigation into how the disease affects younger populations is needed and to add to this understanding, the team collected additional samples of the placenta, amniotic fluid, neonatal blood, and gastric fluid to detect possible receptors for the virus.