A Baby Was Infected With Coronavirus In The Womb, Study Shows

by Cassandra Stone
Baby scan
Majd Forrest/Getty

Both the mother and baby have since recovered, but evidence suggests coronavirus can be transmitted in utero

The first proven case of COVID-19 being transmitted in utero occurred with a mother and baby in Paris, doctors are reporting. The newborn baby boy developed inflammation in the brain within days of being born, which was brought on after the virus crossed the barrier of the placenta and established an infection before birth. Both the mother and the baby have since recovered, but this is still very grave news for pregnant persons all over the world.

The case study, published in Nature Communications, followed the birth of a number of babies with Covid-19 who doctors suspect contracted the virus in the womb. Until now, this possibility had not been ruled out, and doctors were working on determining whether it could be transmitted through the womb or delivery.

“Unfortunately there is no doubt about the transmission in this case,” said Daniele De Luca, medical director of paediatrics and neonatal critical care at the Antoine Béclère hospital in Paris. “Clinicians must be aware that this may happen. It’s not common, that’s for sure, but it may happen and it must be considered in the clinical workout.”

According to The New York Times, isolated cases of newborns who have tested positive for the virus have occurred, but there wasn’t a sufficient amount of evidence that the infants were infected through the womb. In the Paris case, Dr. De Luca said, the team was able to test the placenta, amniotic fluid, cord blood, and the mother’s and baby’s blood. In other similar cases, the samples of everything needed for pathology were too difficult to obtain amid a pandemic with hospital staff tending to emergencies, which made the determination of womb transfer regarding the virus impossible to conclude — until this case.

The testing for the Paris baby indicated that “the virus reaches the placenta and replicates there,” Dr. De Luca said, per the Times. It can then be transmitted to a fetus, which “can get infected and have symptoms similar to adult Covid-19 patients.”

Dr. De Luca tells The Guardian that while it’s valid that those who are pregnant are increasingly worried about the pandemic, they should be reassured — pregnancy is a “controlled” environment.

“In most cases there will be no damage to the baby,” Dr. De Luca said. “There are many things we can do, but we can’t close our eyes and say this is never going to happen.”