COVID-19 Can Cause Brain Damage in Newborns, Study Finds
A recent study conducted by the University of Miami has found that COVID-19 can breach the placenta of pregnant women, infecting foetuses and causing brain damage in newborns. The study confirmed two cases where babies born to young mothers who had tested positive for the Delta variant of coronavirus in 2020 suffered seizures leading to significant developmental delays. One of the infants died at 13 months of age while the other was placed in hospice care. Other infants have also shown transmission of lung disease and blood pressure issues.
Researchers have found that in rare cases, COVID-19 infections in pregnancy can cross the placenta and cause fetal brain damage via harmful inflammation. The paper's evidence also suggests that there is a possibility that the coronavirus could infect the fetal brain directly. According to the research, the COVID-19 virus was able to penetrate the placenta and reach the brain of a newly born infant, resulting in brain damage.
The two infants suffered from seizures, had smaller head sizes, and faced developmental delays, leading to the unfortunate demise of one at the age of 13 months. According to the authors, the mothers acquired the infection during their second trimesters in both instances. Even though they eventually resolved it, one individual experienced a recurrent infection during their third trimester. This indicated an atypical immune reaction by either the mother or the fetus towards the virus.
The authors stated that expecting mothers who are worried should prioritize getting vaccinated against COVID-19 either before or during their pregnancy to establish a primary form of protection. They also emphasized the importance of understanding what made these two pregnancies different so that research can be directed towards protecting vulnerable babies.
“We’re trying to understand what made these two pregnancies different so we can direct research towards protecting vulnerable babies,” said Dr. Shahnaz Duara, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. “We can develop the most suitable interventions once we have a complete comprehension of the underlying causes.”
The research was conducted on a pair of newborns who were admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit at Holtz Children’s Hospital. Even though the newborns received negative test results for the virus upon delivery, their blood was found to contain detectable antibodies. According to the authors, this suggested the presence of an infection. The source of the issues remained unclear, as it was uncertain whether they stemmed from placental cytokines with inflammatory properties or a virus that had crossed the placenta and caused harm to the infant.
“If we saw a baby who presented this way, we would call it hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (brain damage caused by decreased blood flow),” said Dr. Michael Paidas, professor and chair of the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. The viral infection, not the lack of blood flow to the placenta, seems to have caused this issue.
Dr. Duara emphasized that most women who contract COVID-19 during pregnancy go on to have healthy babies, but there is a sub-population of people who have babies who are sick. She urged pregnant women who have had COVID-19 to inform their pediatrician and seek closer follow-up for their babies.
The study, titled “Maternal SARS-CoV-2, Placental Changes and Brain Injury in Two Neonates,” was published in the journal Pediatrics. It marks the first study to confirm cross-placental COVID-19 transmission leading to brain injury in the newborn.
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