A 34-week baby girl born prematurely at Texas is strongly believed to be one of the first in North America to have been infected with COVID-19 while in the womb – confirmed by histology detection of the virus within the placenta. The pregnant mother presented at Parkland Hospital with a fever, and two days later gave birth (infection is known to cause premature birth).
Dr Amanda Evans, a pediatric infectious diseases expert at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, who oversaw the case study, stated “Even if the baby had been exposed to mom’s secretions or bodily fluids on the way out of the birth canal, that likely would not have affected the placental tissue”.
The newborn tested positive for COVID-19 and initially appeared well. However, within 24 hours the neonate began presenting with symptoms of pyrexia (fever) and some respiratory distress. Because the mother and baby were immediately separated at birth, Dr Mambarambath Jaleel, a neonatal doctor at UT Southwestern and Medical Director of the Parkland Hospital NICU [Neonatal Intensive Care Unit] confidently ruled out transmission via respiratory droplets – also because it is estimated neonates exposed to the virus would take at least 48 hours to present with symptoms. “There was little reason to anticipate what happened to the baby” the Dr Jaleel commented.
According to Parkland Hospital:
- Twenty-four hours after the baby was born, she tested positive for COVID-19. Plus Doctors confirmed her diagnosis the next day with a second test.
- The neonate was not extremely premature, and most babies who are born at 34 weeks of pregnancy do well other than minor problems. Premature babies can have immature lungs, so they may have difficulty in breathing. However, these problems and the need for oxygen usually start presenting immediately after birth or within the first few hours of birth – not 24 hours later. And prematurity does not cause fever on the second day of life.
- The hospital also tested the amniotic fluid, umbilical cord blood, and breastmilk, and found transmission from any of these fluids was unlikely.
- The mother was physically separated from her baby for many days which was incredibly upsetting at the time.
Kathy Fray, senior Midwife, best-selling Maternity Author, MothersWise.com managing director, and Founding Director of the global thought-leaders on perinatal holistic medicine IIMHCO [Intl Integrative Maternity HealthCare Org] advises “So little is scientifically known about Coronavirus in relation to potential intrauterine transmission, however infection anywhere in a pregnant mother’s body is well known to potentially trigger premature labor, so the issue is two-fold as such.”
Fray continues “All pregnant women must protect their pregnancy against COVID-19 to avoid preterm birth and we already knew that. However, now it seems pregnant women must also protect their pregnancy against COVID-19 due to the potential to transmit this serious infection on to their baby in utero. On this occasion the baby did recover from the virus without medical complications, but she was not able to be discharged home until twenty days after her birth”.