There is "strong evidence" that mothers who have tested positive for COVID-19 can pass the virus on to their unborn infants, scientists said on July 9, in findings that could affect how pregnant women are protected amid the pandemic.
According to an NDTV report, the findings have revealed the strongest link yet between mother and infant transmission, although there have been isolated cases of babies infected with the virus.
Researchers in Italy conducted a study with 31 pregnant women hospitalised with COVID-19 and found the virus in an at-term placenta, umbilical cord, the vagina of one woman and in breast milk.
Specific COVID-19 antibodies were also observed in the umbilical cords of several pregnant women as well as in milk specimens.
According to Claudio Fenizia, from the University of Milan and lead study author, the findings "strongly suggest" that in-vitro transmission is possible.
"Given the number of infected people worldwide, the number of women that could be affected by this could be potentially very high," AFP quoted him as saying.
Fenizia emphasised that none of the infants born during the study period tested positive for COVID-19.
"Although in utero transmission seems to be possible, it is too early to clearly assess the risk and potential consequences," he added.
Last month the World Health Organization had said that new mothers infected with COVID-19 should continue breastfeeding.
"We know that children are at relatively low-risk of COVID-19, but are at high risk of numerous other diseases and conditions that breastfeeding prevents," said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
The team further identified a specific inflammatory response triggered by COVID-19 in the women's placenta and umbilical cord blood plasma, among other findings. The study was released at the International AIDS Conference, held online for the first time in its history keeping the pandemic in mind.
According to Fenizia, the women who were a part of the study were all in their third trimester. He added that further research is currently underway among COVID-19-positive women in the early stages of pregnancy.
"Our study is aimed at raising awareness and inviting the scientific community to consider the pregnancy in positive women as an urgent topic to further characterise and dissect," he said.
"I believe that promoting prevention is the safer advice we could possibly give right now for these patients," he added.