The first confirmed case of a mother transmitting the coronavirus to her unborn baby has been reported in France, according to a case study published Tuesday.
French doctors said in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Communications that a 23-year-old woman was admitted to the Antoine Béclère hospital in Paris with a fever and a cough when she more than 35 weeks pregnant.
She tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2, and gave birth to her baby by cesarean section. Presence of the virus also was found in the boy.
Doctors found evidence of inflammation in the newborn’s brain caused by the coronavirus. They believe the virus had infected baby’s bloodstream by way of the placenta.
“The placenta showed signs of acute and chronic intervillous inflammation consistent with the severe systemic maternal inflammatory status triggered by SARS-CoV-2 infection,” the case study’s authors said.
After testing positive, the newborn recovered and was discharged from the hospital 18 days later.
Doctors say the newborn was immediately taken to the neonatal intensive care unit after birth, which led doctors to rule out the chance he may have caught the virus after being born.
While this is the first confirmed case of coronavirus transmission from mother to baby through the womb, previous studies have suggested it was possible.
In July, researchers from Italy said they studied 31 women with COVID-19 who delivered babies in March and April. They found signs of the virus in several samples of umbilical cord blood, the placenta and, in one case, breast milk.
Study: Pregnant women with COVID-19 are 5 times more likely to be hospitalized
The study involved women at three hospitals during the height of the outbreak in northern Italy. Researchers also found specific, anti-coronavirus antibodies in umbilical cord blood and in milk.
Since the start of the pandemic, doctors have wondered whether in-the-womb infection could occur. HIV, Zika and some other viruses can infect a fetus this way. Several early reports from China suggested the coronavirus might, too, although doctors suspect those women may have spread the virus to their babies during or after birth.
Dr. Ashley Roman, a pregnancy specialist at NYU Langone Health, said she and colleagues also detected viral particles on the fetal side of the placenta in several of 11 cases they examined.
Dr. Jane van Dis, OB-GYN and Medical Director of Maven, a women and family digital health company, says that while mechanisms of infection exist in the womb, it’s still “exceedingly rare.”
“A lot of babies have been born since this pandemic started,” she said. “The number of babies that have been born to moms with known COVID positive that don’t show any clinical signs or laboratory signs of infection … that number is overwhelming.”
Additionally, she says the clinical outcomes of babies who have tested positive for the virus have been good. In fact, a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention seems to indicate that pregnant women tend to be more at risk for severe complications than their babies.
“The most important thing that pregnant women need to know is it’s important to socially distance. It’s important to wear a mask, wash their hands,” Roman said. “Women don’t need to be cut off from society entirely, but they should be concerned about the impact of getting COVID on their own health during pregnancy.”
Contributing: Associated Press. Follow Adrianna Rodriguez on Twitter: @AdriannaUSAT.
Health and patient safety coverage at USA TODAY is made possible in part by a grant from the Masimo Foundation for Ethics, Innovation and Competition in Healthcare. The Masimo Foundation does not provide editorial input.