Medical experts have speculated if coronavirus can be transmitted from a pregnant mother to her unborn child. They have recently found evidence that intrauterine transmission (within the womb) is possible.
In late June, a Mexican mother gave birth to triplets who tested positive for the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes the coronavirus. Two of the babies were in stable condition while their third sibling received special care for a respiratory condition.
Doctors debated if the transmission occurred through the placenta, the organ that provides nutrients within the womb and removes waste simultaneously, or if newborns can pick up the virus right after birth. State Health Secretary Mónica Liliana Rangel Martínez said, "It would be impossible for them to have been infected at the moment of birth."
On July 10, a report was published in the Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal by a team from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, Texas. A premature baby girl was diagnosed with coronavirus upon birth where the infected mother transmitted pathogens in utero, or within the womb, which had been confirmed by Dr. Julide Sisman from the university.
Coronavirus In Utero
"Numerous infants have now been delivered to pregnant women diagnosed with SARS-CoV-2, with the majority of these infants without respiratory illness or positive molecular evidence for SARS-CoV-2," said Dr. Amanda S. Evans. "Our study is the first to document intrauterine transmission of the infection during pregnancy, based on immunohistochemical and ultrastructural evidence of SARS-CoV-2 infection in the fetal cells of the placenta."
This first case of intrauterine transmission of coronavirus notes that the mother had both the virus and type 2 diabetes. The baby girl was born at 34 weeks old, requiring treatment for prematurity and complications associated with newborns of diabetic mothers, being too "large for gestational age."
At first, the baby had normal vital signs showing that she was healthy. 24 hours after birth, she developed a fever and mild breathing problems. The team wrote, "It is unlikely that the respiratory distress observed in this infant was due to prematurity since it did not start until the second day of life."
She then tested positive for coronavirus for up to 14 days. After 21 days, both mother and child had recovered well and went home.
When the doctors analyzed the mother's placenta, her tissues had signs of inflammation and infection of coronavirus particles. Moreover, COVID-19 nucleocapsid proteins were found, which are specifically associated with the virus infecting the placenta's fetal cells.
"Intrauterine transmission of SARS-CoV-2 appears to be a rare event," said Dr. Sisman. The team expressed the urgency for prioritizing research on in utero transmission of the virus and the possibility of congenital conditions for newborns.
"We wanted to be very careful of our interpretation of this data, but now is an even more important time for pregnant women to protect themselves from COVID-19," said Dr. Evans. "The CDC has thoughtful guidance on ways to reduce the risk of infection."