Embryo phase of baby in womb

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DALLAS —  Previous research shows the chance of pregnant women infecting their newborns with COVID-19 is very low. A new report from Texas, however, is sparking fresh concerns for expecting mothers. Doctors say a baby was infected with the coronavirus while still inside the womb.

A team from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center believe the baby girl is the first case of “in utero transmission” during the pandemic. The study in The Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal reports the child was born prematurely to a mother who tested positive for COVID-19. The child began to display symptoms of the virus within two days of her birth.

COVID-19 in the womb

Researchers say the majority of women with coronavirus have their babies without passing on the illness before, during, or after delivery. In this case, the study finds evidence that virus cells can infect the placenta — the organ that provides oxygen and nutrients to a developing fetus.

“Our study is the first to document intrauterine transmission of the infection during pregnancy,” says Dr. Amanda Evans in a release.

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The researcher adds there are signs of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, in the fetal cells of the mother’s placenta. Further tests reveal there is inflammation in the tissue and proteins specific to COVID-19 present that confirms the infection occurring in the womb.

A difficult delivery

The report also details the many difficulties for the mother and child during this pregnancy. The Dallas team reports the mother not only has COVID-19, but is diabetic too. The baby was born after just 34 weeks, after the mother experienced a rupture of the membranes.

The study says the infant is “large for gestational age,” which is a critical complication among babies with diabetic mothers. The baby was placed in the neonatal ICU and was healthy for the first 24 hours. On her second day however, she developed multiple symptoms of COVID-19 including a fever and breathing problems.

“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,” researchers explain.

The baby then tested positive for the virus but fortunately did not need a ventilator. Doctors say both the mother and newborn were released in good condition three weeks later.

‘A rare event’

Doctors emphasize that this incident appears to be uncommon. Still, they are recommending more research on the link between SARS-CoV-2 transmission and pregnancy.

“Intrauterine transmission of SARS-CoV-2 appears to be a rare event,” says Dr. Julide Sisman.

“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,” Dr. Evans adds.

The researchers recommend expectant mothers to follow the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention during their pregnancies.

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About Chris Melore

Chris Melore has been a writer, researcher, editor, and producer in the New York-area since 2006. He won a local Emmy award for his work in sports television in 2011.

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