Coronavirus found in placenta, but experts say mother-to-baby transmission is rare

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Cases of transmission of COVID-19 from pregnant mothers to their babies are rare and should not spark undue concern, experts said on Tuesday after a case study was published suggesting the novel coronavirus may be able to cross the placenta.

The study, published in the journal Nature Communications, described a case in France where the COVID-19-causing virus was found in the blood of a baby born prematurely to a 23-year-old mother who was diagnosed with the pandemic disease in March.

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The detection of the virus in placental tissue, as well as in the mother’s and baby’s blood, suggests that “transplacental transmission of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) may be possible,” the doctors detailing the case wrote. They added, however, that further studies would be needed to confirm this.

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Marian Knight, a professor of maternal and child population health at Britain’s Oxford University, said the case was interesting, but should not be a major worry for pregnant women.

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“Among the many thousands of babies born to mothers with SARS-CoV-2 infection, a very few have been reported to also have a positive test – around 1-2%,” she said. “It is still unclear whether the virus passes across the placenta; this report provides evidence that it may.”

Both mother and baby in the French case recovered well and were discharged from hospital.

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Andrew Shennan, an obstetrics professor at King’s College London, agreed it is rare for unborn babies to catch COVID-19 from their mothers. He cited UK data on 244 babies born to infected mothers, of which 95% had no sign of the virus.

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“Women can remain reassured that pregnancy is not a significant risk factor for them or their babies with COVID-19,” he said.

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