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Study Suggests Fetal Covid-19 Infection Might Be Possible

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Data from new Italian research suggests pregnant women could pass COVID-19 to their fetus, through analyzing blood and milk samples.

An Italian study suggested Thursday that pregnant moms could pass COVID-19 to their fetuses. The researchers studied 31 mothers who had given birth in March and April. After analysis, they found traces of coronavirus in their blood and breast milk. They had taken blood from the mothers’ umbilical cord and placenta. 

Pregnant Women Shouldn’t Panic 

This new study adds to mounting evidence on spreading the virus to fetuses. However, researchers advise women not to panic. In a report to MSNBC, study leader Dr. Claudio Fenizia said it was too early to change care guidelines. Dr. Fenizia is an immunology specialist at the University of Milan. Yet, he added that their research spurs further study. At an online conference, he said they need to look at more subgroups of pregnant women. These were women who were infected “earlier in their pregnancies” than the ones they studied.

A CDC report also suggested pregnant and non-pregnant women get COVID-19 at similar rates. Pregnant women also are not at a higher death risk. Yet, pregnant women “are more likely” to need hospital care. They are also more likely to need ventilators and intensive care. The CDC studied more than 325,000 women between 15 to 44 years old. About 8,200 of them were pregnant. Looking at their pooled data, the CDC found all women suffered symptoms at the same rate. But about 31.5% of pregnant women went to the hospital. Only 5.8% of non-pregnant women did. 

Past Studies on Pregnant Women and Fetal Infection 

MSNBC reports that studies have tried to find out if a mother could pass viruses to their fetus. They knew HIV and Zika could spread this way. Chinese doctors have suggested the same for coronavirus. But it could be that they spread the virus “during or after birth.”

In the new study, researchers looked at women in three hospitals at the height of the outbreak in northern Italy. They found the virus’ genetic material in blood from the umbilical cords. They also found it in vaginal swabs and breast milk. MSNBC says the researchers also found coronavirus antibodies in the umbilical cord blood and milk.  

While the data strongly suggests mothers can pass the virus onto their fetus, this is still extremely rare. Dr. Ashley Roman told MSNBC that this mode of transmission does not seem to “cause serious problems in the infants.” Dr. Roman is a pregnancy specialist at NYU Langone Health.

Ways to Keep Pregnant Women Safe 

Dr. Roman added that pregnant women should practice safety. They should do social distancing, wear masks, and wash their hands. Other doctors also said they need to think about what the new study means. Dr. Anton Pozniak said children under three years old “rarely get seriously ill from coronavirus.” If fetal infection were possible, “it was not harmful,” he added. Dr. Pozniak is a virus expert at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in London. UNICEF recommends women with COVID-19 should wear masks while breastfeeding.

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