COVID caused brain damage in 2 infants infected during pregnancy – US study
By Julie Steenhuysen
CHICAGO (Reuters) – Researchers at the University of Miami reported on Thursday what they believe to be the first two confirmed cases in which the SARS-CoV-2 virus crossed a mother’s placenta and caused brain damage in the infants they were carrying.
Doctors had previously suspected it was possible, but so far there was no direct evidence of COVID-19 in a mother’s placenta or an infant’s brain, the team told reporters. during a press conference.
The babies were born to young mothers who tested positive for the virus during their second trimester during the height of the Delta wave of the pandemic in 2020, before vaccines became available. The case studies have been published in the journal Pediatrics.
Several viruses are known to be able to cross the placenta and cause brain damage to the fetus, including cytomegalovirus, rubella, HIV, and Zika. The SARS-CoV-2 virus has been detected in adult brain tissue, and some experts had suspected it could also damage fetal brain tissue.
“This is the first time we have been able to demonstrate the virus in a fetal organ with transplacental passage,” said Dr. Michael Paidas, chair of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Miami, during the briefing. “That’s why we think it’s so important.”
The newborns had convulsions from the first day of life. However, unlike Zika, babies are not born with microcephaly, a condition characterized by small head size. Instead, microcephaly developed over time when their brains stopped growing at a normal rate, the team said.
Both infants had severe developmental delays. One of the children died at 13 months and the other was in hospice care, the team said.
None of the infants tested positive for the SARS-CoV-2 virus, but they had high levels of COVID antibodies in their blood, said Dr. Merline Benny, neonatologist and assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Miami. She said this suggests the virus passed from the mother, through the placenta and to the baby.
The team found evidence of the virus in the placentas of both mothers. An autopsy of the deceased child’s brain revealed the COVID virus in the brain, suggesting direct infection caused the injuries, Benny said.
As for the mothers, although both tested positive for the virus, one woman had only mild symptoms and carried the baby to term while the other was so sick doctors had to deliver at 32 weeks gestation. .
Dr Shahnaz Duara, an obstetrician and gynecologist at the University of Miami, said she thought the cases were rare, but urged women who were infected during pregnancy to tell their children’s pediatricians to check for delays. of development.
“We know things can be quite subtle up until the age of seven or eight, until the kids go to school,” she said.
The team also urged women considering pregnancy to get vaccinated against COVID, and said pregnant women should consider vaccination.
It was not yet clear whether the injuries caused during pregnancy were unique to the Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2 or could occur with Omicron-related variants.
(Reporting by Julie Steenhuysen; Editing by David Gregorio)
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