US Researchers on Thursday reported what they believe are the first two confirmed cases of babies born with brain damage as a result of the COVID-19 virus crossing into their mothers’ placenta.
According to the University of Miami study, published in the journal Pediatrics, both babies were born to young mothers who had tested positive for the virus in their second trimester during the peak spread of the Delta variant in 2020 – before vaccines were available. On the day they were born, both babies suffered seizures and later suffered significant developmental delays. While one child died at 13 months, the other was placed in hospice care, the researchers said.
Neither of the babies tested positive for the virus, but they did have high levels of Covid antibodies in their blood, said Dr Merline Benny, a neonatologist and assistant professor of paediatrics at the University of Miami, as per Reuters. She said that this suggests that the virus likely transferred from the mother to the placenta and then to the baby.
The researchers found evidence of the virus in both mothers’ placentas. An autopsy of the child’s brain who died also showed traces of the virus in the brain, suggesting direct infection caused the injuries, said Dr Benny.
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According to the study, both mothers tested positive for the virus. While one had only mild symptoms and carried the baby to full-term, the other mother was so severely sick that doctors had to deliver her baby at 32 weeks.
Dr Shahnaz Duara, an obstetrician and gynaecologist at the University of Miami, said she believed the cases were rare, but urged women who had been infected during their pregnancies to inform their children’s paediatricians to check for developmental delays. “We know that things can be fairly subtle up to seven or eight years of age, until kids go to school,” she said, as per the news agency.
The researchers also urged women who were considering pregnancy to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
It is not clear whether the injuries caused during pregnancy were unique to the Delta variant of Covid or could occur with Omicron-related variants, researchers said.
Meanwhile, the study noted that previously doctors had suggested this was possible, but until now, there was no direct evidence of COVID-19 in a mother’s placenta or an infant’s brain.
“This is the first time that we’ve been able to demonstrate the virus in a fetal organ with transplacental passage,” said Dr Michael Paidas, chair of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Miami. “That’s why we think this is so important,” he added.