Vertical Transmission of Coronavirus: What We Know (And What We Don’t)

On Saturday, March 14, the first newborn was diagnosed with coronavirus. The baby was tested for COVID-19 within minutes of birth at North Middlesex Hospital in north London (1).

The facts

The mother was also diagnosed with the virus after the baby’s birth. It is not known at the moment whether the baby  contracted the disease in the womb or during the birth process (1). This means that it has yet to be proven that COVID-19 can be transferred from the mother to the fetus, or through what’s called “vertical transmission.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it is not currently known whether pregnant women have a higher risk of catching COVID-19, nor it is known whether they will experience more serious complications of the virus if they do catch it (2).

Prevention

However, pregnant women are more prone to severe illness with viruses in the same family and influenza. Because of this, pregnant women should practice prevention. Both the CDC and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) encourage pregnant women to follow the general guidelines for COVID-19 prevention, which are as follows (2, 3):

  • Cover your cough using your elbow
  • Clean your hands often using soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer
  • Avoid people who are sick

ACOG and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine have developed an algorithm to help medical professionals assess and treat pregnant women suspected of having COVID-19 (3). That can be found here.

Research

The Lancet released a research study called “Clinical characteristics and intrauterine vertical transmission potential of COVID-19 infection in nine pregnant women: a retrospective review of medical records (4).” In this study, the research team evaluated lab results, clinical records, and chest CT scans of nine women diagnosed with COVID-19 pneumonia in the third trimester through lab testing (4). 

After the births of their babies, various sampling was done to discover that (4):

  • Amniotic fluid tested NEGATIVE for Covid-19.
  • Cord blood tested NEGATIVE for Covid-19.
  • Neonatal throat swab tested NEGATIVE for Covid-19.
  • Breastmilk samples from six patients tested NEGATIVE for Covid-19.

The Lancet study reveals that “based on data from this small group of patients, there is currently no evidence of vertical transmission in pregnant women who develop COVID-19 pneumonia in the third trimester (4).”

Sources:

  1. Murphy, S. (2020, March 14). Newborn baby tests positive for coronavirus in London. Retrieved March 15, 2020, from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/14/newborn-baby-tests-positive-for-coronavirus-in-london
  2. Pregnancy & Breastfeeding. (2020, March 14). Retrieved March 16, 2020, from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prepare/pregnancy-breastfeeding.html?CDC_AA_refVal=https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/specific-groups/pregnancy-faq.html
  3. Women’s Health Care Physicians. (2020, March 13). Retrieved March 13, 2020, from https://www.acog.org/Clinical-Guidance-and-Publications/Practice-Advisories/Practice-Advisory-Novel-Coronavirus2019?IsMobileSet=false
  4. Chen, H., Guo, J., Wang, C., Luo, F., Yu, X., Zhang, W., … Zhang, Y. (2020, February 12). Clinical characteristics and intrauterine vertical transmission potential of COVID-19 infection in nine pregnant women: a retrospective review of medical records. Retrieved March 15, 2020, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0140673620303603

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