Can novel coronavirus affect pregnant women and their babies?

As the new coronavirus (COVID-19) becomes more of a concern for people around the world, fact and myth are increasingly being confused, particularly due to misinformation and unofficial advice being casually shared. Online and unmoderated parenting groups are rife with this misinformation, meaning that parents and prospective parents are unnecessarily overwhelmed trying to understand what is best for their families.

Can novel coronavirus affect pregnant women and their babies?

Cord blood collection company, Smart Cells, discusses and summarizes the most up to date advice for pregnant women and their families with regard to the new coronavirus.

No official advice has yet been issued by the UK government for pregnant women and babies concerning coronavirus. A recent study, however, carried out in Wuhan, China, the center of the outbreak, of pregnant women infected with the virus has confirmed that it may not spread during pregnancy.

The study is limited so far: they were able to observe 9 women between the ages of 26 and 40 who were infected with the new coronavirus. The research team led by Professor Zhang Yuanzhen of Zhongnan Hospital of Wuhan University in China stated that all of the pregnant women had contracted pneumonia as a result of the viral infection and were in late stages of pregnancy. They have all recovered from the disease following treatment with antibiotics and oxygen. Six of these also received antiviral treatment.

This study tested the newborns and found no sign of COVID-19 infection. Six of the babies were tested for the virus through the umbilical cord blood, amniotic fluid and placental samples, none of which were COVID-19 positive. These findings were published in online medical journal, The Lancet, on 12th February 2020.

The reason for this study being carried out was due to previous reports of a baby born to a woman infected with the coronavirus which did test positive for COVID-19 within 36 hours of birth, however it is not clear whether, in this case, this was contracted before or after birth.

The new study suggests that intrauterine infections are impossible, however the research team has emphasized that their findings were based on a small number of cases collected in a short period of time. In addition, these cases include only women who are in the third trimester and who delivered via cesarean section. As a result, it is still unclear how the infection affects mothers and babies in the first or second trimester and whether the infection can be passed from mother to child during vaginal childbirth.

Professor Zhang Yuanzhen said in the journal press release:

It is important to note that this case lacks many important clinical details, so we cannot draw conclusions about whether intrauterine infection is possible from this case. Nevertheless, we should still continue to pay special attention to newborns born to pregnant women with COVID-19 pneumonia to help prevent infection in this group.”

In the coming days, guidance will be published by the Royal College of Midwives, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, Public Health England and Health Protection Scotland for healthcare professionals on how best to handle coronavirus in pregnancy, including the effects on pregnant women and fetuses, as well as advice for those who have been exposed, travel advice and postnatal management.

Source:
Journal references:

Chen, H., et al. (2020) Clinical characteristics and intrauterine vertical transmission potential of COVID-19 infection in nine pregnant women: a retrospective review of medical records. The Lancet. doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(20)30360-3.

Qiao, J (2020) What are the risks of COVID-19 infection in pregnant women?. The Lancet. doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(20)30365-2.

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