Can a baby catch Covid-19 in his mother’s womb?
Yes, several French researchers clearly replied in a case study published Tuesday July 14 in the scientific journal Nature. These doctors demonstrate for the first time that it is possible for a sick woman to directly infect her baby through the umbilical cord.
If several infants had already tested positive for Covid from birth, this is the first time that scientists have clearly demonstrated a link between the infection of the mother and that of the child.
It all started in March 2020, when a 23-year-old woman, 37 weeks pregnant, presented to the Antoine-Béclère hospital in Clamart, due to a strong persistent cough and a slight fever. The young mother is quickly tested and proves to be carrying the Covid. “As we always do, we did tests on the baby in utero and we found abnormal rhythm. What pushed us to start childbirth “, explains doctor Alexandra Benachi, head of the obstetrics and gynecology department at Antoine-Béclère hospital and co-author of the study.
After a test, the doctors discover that the little boy is also carrying the virus. “After blood and placenta tests, we found that these elements were also infected”, continues Doctor Benachi.
Above all, after three days, the little boy presents neurological signs which push the doctors to make new analyzes. “We detected signs of hypertonia, that is to say of abnormal contraction of the muscles, a bit like during meningitis”, continues Doctor Benachi. Neurological disorders also observed in certain adult patients carrying Covid, confirmed by MRI of the infant’s brain. And who disappeared after two months.
Is this case exceptional?
Despite this publication, this case remains completely exceptional. In Clamart, this little boy is the only one to have contracted the coronavirus in his mother’s womb, while 35 sick women from Covid have given birth since the start of the crisis. “Two others contracted Covid after birth, via microdroplets emanating from their parents, but they are doing very well today”, insisted Alexandra Benachi.
In reality, completes this practitioner, the risk to take into account is more that weighing on future mothers, during the third trimester of pregnancy. “Some, who had developed relatively serious forms of the disease, gave birth prematurely, even very prematurely”, she explains. This justifies that women at the end of pregnancy are considered a population at risk, especially if they have obesity, hypertension or diabetes.
“The precautionary principle must prevail”, adds Dr. Bertrand de Rochambeau, who chairs the National Union of French Gynecologists and Obstetricians (Syngof). “Concretely, this means that women in the third trimester must remain as confined as possible, respect social distances and barrier gestures”, he continues. Thestudy published in Nature, he explains, gives no reason to panic but must lead to “elementary caution” when approaching childbirth.
The fact that the infant born in Clamart did not develop any complications linked to Covid also confirms that the virus almost never causes serious forms in the smallest children. “The smaller the children, the more benign the form they can develop”, underlines Doctor Brigitte Virey, president of the National Union of French Pediatricians and practitioner in Dijon. “Since newborns are free of any factors that aggravate the virus, Covid usually manifests as a fever that passes after a few days. “