A new study from Italy suggests that coronavirus can cross the placenta from a pregnant woman to her fetus.
Two babies born to women infected with Covid-19 were born infected themselves, Claudio Fenizia of the University of Milan and colleagues reported at a conference organized by the International AIDS Society.
They studied 31 women infected with coronavirus who were in late pregnancy during the height of the coronavirus pandemic in Italy. They thoroughly tested the women, their babies once they were born, the placenta, the umbilical cord, the mother’s vaginal fluids and breast milk.
Two of the newborns had positive tests at birth, they reported.
“Our result strongly suggest and support that vertical transmission occurred in two cases out of the 31 studied,” Fenizia told a news conference.
“The virus was found in an at-term placenta and in the umbilical cord blood, in the vagina of a pregnant woman and in milk,” the researchers wrote in a summary of their work.
“This is the first ringing bell that should raise awareness about a topic that is not really well studied,” Fenizia said.
The placentas were inflamed, as well — a sign of infection. The umbilical cord blood of one of the newborns had antibodies indicating a recent infection. These antibody types are not usually transmitted from mother to baby, so they indicate the fetus was directly infected, Fenizia said.
Luckily, the women were infected late in pregnancy so it is unlikely the virus would have affected the babies’ development, he said. The Zika virus can pass from a pregnant woman to her unborn child, sometimes causing severe brain damage and a condition called microcephaly. HIV — the virus that causes AIDS — can also be transmitted at birth.