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Doctors in France have found what they say is the world's first recorded case of an unborn child contracting COVID-19 from their mother inside the womb

Business Insider logo Business Insider 7/14/2020 insider@insider.com (Bill Bostock)
a person sitting on a bed: A health worker attends to a baby with COVID-19 at the Wuhan Children's Hospital in China on March 6, 2020 — not the case mentioned in this story. China Daily CIC/Reuters © China Daily CIC/Reuters A health worker attends to a baby with COVID-19 at the Wuhan Children's Hospital in China on March 6, 2020 — not the case mentioned in this story. China Daily CIC/Reuters
  • Doctors in France have reported the first known confirmed case of an unborn baby contracting COVID-19 from their mother while still in the womb.
  • The case was published on Tuesday in Nature Communications journal.
  • The authors said the baby's brain bore evidence of inflammation caused by the coronavirus. They also said they found sufficient evidence that it had crossed into the baby through the placenta.
  • Several previous studies indicated that placental or cervical transmission was possible, but the case study from the Antoine Béclère hospital in Paris now serves as proof.
  • But it is very rare. The paper's lead author said "pregnant women should be reassured" because "in most cases there will be no damage to the baby."
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Doctors in France have reported what they say is the first confirmed case of an unborn child contracting the coronavirus from their mother while still in the womb.

The case was the subject of a paper titled "Transplacental transmission of SARS-CoV-2 infection," published Tuesday in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Communications. Details of the paper were first reported by The Guardian.

Until now, there has been some limited evidence suggesting that an unborn child could catch the coronavirus from inside the womb, but the paper's authors, from the Antoine Béclère hospital, in Paris, confirmed "transplacental transmission of SARS-CoV-2" was possible.

They said a 23-year-old woman was admitted to the hospital with a fever and cough on March 24 when she was more than 35 weeks pregnant with a boy.

a person holding a baby: A doctor holds the newborn son of a coronavirus patient at Monica Pretelini Maternal Hospital in Toluca, Mexico, on May 29, 2020. Not the case mentioned in this story. Cristopher Rogel Blanquet/Getty Images © Cristopher Rogel Blanquet/Getty Images A doctor holds the newborn son of a coronavirus patient at Monica Pretelini Maternal Hospital in Toluca, Mexico, on May 29, 2020. Not the case mentioned in this story. Cristopher Rogel Blanquet/Getty Images

The mother tested positive for the coronavirus, gave birth by cesarean section, and the baby was immediately taken to the natal intensive care unit.

The baby tested positive for the virus. He later recovered and was discharged from hospital 18 days later, the doctors wrote.

The doctors said the baby's brain bore evidence of inflammation caused by the coronavirus, which had crossed the placenta into the baby's bloodstream.

They ruled out the chance that the baby caught the virus after birth by viral or bacterial means.


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"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 authors said.

a person posing for the camera: A pregnant woman wearing a face mask walks past a mural in Hong Kong on March 23, 2020. ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP via Getty Images © ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP via Getty Images) A pregnant woman wearing a face mask walks past a mural in Hong Kong on March 23, 2020. ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP via Getty Images

The doctors said there have been similar cases of babies being born with the coronavirus, but, until now, they had not been able to say definitively whether babies could contract the virus in utero.

A small study done on 31 women in Italy in March and April had found some evidence showing that unborn babies could catch the virus from their mothers.

Three other studies published in March had also found evidence that it was possible.

The doctors in France wrote, "We have demonstrated that the transplacental transmission of SARS-CoV-2 infection is possible during the last weeks of pregnancy.

"Other cases of potential perinatal transmission have recently been described, but presented several unaddressed issues," the authors said.

a person sitting on a bed: A pregnant woman seen during an ultrasound at a perinatal center in Tatarstan on June 5, 2020. Yegor Aleyev\TASS via Getty Images © Yegor Aleyev\TASS via Getty Images A pregnant woman seen during an ultrasound at a perinatal center in Tatarstan on June 5, 2020. Yegor Aleyev\TASS via Getty Images

However, Daniele De Luca, the lead author and medical director of pediatrics at the Paris hospital, told The Guardian that cases like this were very rare.

"Pregnant women should be reassured," he said. "Pregnancy is very controlled, and if you have something like this, it can be controlled. In most cases there will be no damage to the baby.

"There are many things we can do, but we can't close our eyes and say this is never going to happen."

The long-term effect of the coronavirus on coronavirus-positive pregnant women and their unborn children remains unknown.

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