Unborn babies could be at risk of catching COVID-19 in the womb


Unborn babies could be at risk of catching COVID-19 in the womb at just two weeks old if their mother becomes infected, study claims

  • Genes in two-week old embryos are designed to create proteins on cell surfaces 
  • These proteins include ACE2 receptor which coronavirus used to infect people 
  • Thought the virus could use this pathway to infect unborn babies in the womb 
  • The study is purely hypothetical and there is no proof babies are at risk  

Unborn babies as young as two weeks old possess genes which could put them at risk of contracting Covid-19 from their mother.

Early data shows these genes likely make proteins which the virus can use to infect human cells, including ACE2 which has been dubbed the ‘gateway to the body’. 

Researchers from the University of Cambridge created a new way to look at genes in the early human embryo to determine their function. 

It involved scrutinising chunks of genetic material called RNA and has not been validated at the protein level, in cells or in animal models. 

The researchers say this discovery could be used to further investigate the risk to unborn babies but critics have slammed the study. 

Unborn babies as young as two weeks old possess genes which could put them at risk of contracting Covid-19 from their mother. Early data shows these genes likely make proteins which the virus can use to infect human cells, including ACE2 (stock)

Unborn babies as young as two weeks old possess genes which could put them at risk of contracting Covid-19 from their mother. Early data shows these genes likely make proteins which the virus can use to infect human cells, including ACE2 (stock)

Professor Christoph Lees, co-chief Investigator on the study at Imperial College London, stresses it is important to note these findings are strictly hypothetical. 

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At this early stage, it is impossible to know if the presence of the genes manifests itself into increased risk from coronavirus. 

When a foetus is two weeks old the embryo attaches to the mother’s womb and begins rapidly changing in shape and structure.  

‘It is important to say that this work is at a very hypothetical stage – in other words there are more question marks than there are answers,’ says Professor Lees. 

The research reignites an enormously emotional debate as to the risk Covid-19 positive pregnant mothers pose to their unborn child. 

Professor Lees says his research  does not prove the coronavirus can pass from mother to baby, but suggests a route in which it may be able to.  

When a foetus is two weeks old the embryo attaches to the mother's womb and begins rapidly changing in shape and structure.

When a foetus is two weeks old the embryo attaches to the mother’s womb and begins rapidly changing in shape and structure.

Coronavirus can ‘injure’ the placenta 

The coronavirus may injure the placentas of pregnant women and cut off blood supply to their unborn babies, a small study has found, a May study found.

Scientists discovered visible damage to the placentas of all 15 mothers who were involved in the research.

Lesions and blood clots were discovered in the vital organ, responsible for providing oxygen and nutrients to the foetus.

Issues with placental blood flow can lead to low birth weight, organ damage in the baby or even foetal death.

Although none of the children in the study had any health troubles, the researchers who conducted the study said the findings ‘worried them’.

The results highlight the need to monitor expectant mothers infected with COVID-19 ‘right now’, they added.

‘What appears possible in a laboratory study is a long way removed from what might actually happen in the human embryo,’ he adds. 

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Professor Ian Jones of the University of Reading admits the research is well conducted and ‘scientifically accurate’, but should be interpreted with caution. 

‘While there have been occasional reports of intrauterine transmission [of the SARS-CoV-2 virus] the overwhelming evidence is that it is very uncommon and does not represent a significant risk. To suggest otherwise borders on scaremongering,’  he says.

Very few cases of a foetus being infected with the coronavirus from its mother have been reported, and scientists are increasingly confident the babies are not at risk.

Professor Andrew Shennan of King’s College London, who was not involved in the study, says evidence is amassing which shows it is extremely rare for the virus to breach the placenta which protects the unborn baby.

‘Even if fetal cells are infected, this research does not indicate they would be harmed,’ he explains. 

‘Most cells make a complete recovery after being infected with a virus. This includes with the coronavirus. 

‘So far there have been many studies showing that babies are not at increased risk if their mother has coronavirus. 

‘About 1 in 5 babies have to be delivered early as their mother is sick, but are unharmed by the virus.’

The findings have been published in the journal Open Biology

What pregnant women need to know about coronavirus: Experts say there is no evidence an unborn baby can be infected during pregnancy

Pregnant women do not appear to be more susceptible to coronavirus than others and mothers are being advised to carry on breastfeeding, according to a new report. 

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists have released new guidelines for pregnant women in relation to the coronavirus and have confirmed that there is no evidence the virus can be passed to an unborn baby. 

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As a precautionary approach, pregnant women with suspected or confirmed coronavirus when they go into labour are being advised to attend an obstetric unit – which has more doctors than a normal midwifery unit – for birth.

The world’s youngest coronavirus victim is a newborn baby in London, whose mother also tested positive for the disease after giving birth. 

 

The mother was rushed to hospital days ago with suspected pneumonia but her positive result was only known after the birth.

They were treated at separate hospitals – the baby at North Middlesex and the mother at a specialist infections hospital.

According to The Sun, the baby is now ‘out of danger’ and recovering well.  

It is believed the baby was infected after the birth from coughs or sneezes and it was tested within minutes of its arrival. 

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has also advised that healthy babies should not be separated from infected mothers and can be breastfed. 

Dr Edward Morris, President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said:

‘As this is a very new virus we are just beginning to learn about it, so the guidance will be kept under regular review as new evidence emerges.

‘Over the coming weeks and months it is likely pregnant women in the UK will test positive for coronavirus. While the data is currently limited it is reassuring that there is no evidence that the virus can pass to a baby during pregnancy.’ 

 





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