This week on social media this seemed to be a hot topic. What should we do to protect ourselves as we start to see more mothers infected or at least suspected of having COVID-19
presenting in labour. Should we be assuming all of these infants are infected and if so should we all don personal protective equipment (PPE) including the N95 mask? Let’s see what we know so far.
The big concern with this began after a report of a 36 hour old newborn in China contracting the virus. This was published in Clinical Infectious Diseases in the paper A case report of neonatal COVID-19 infection in China. As the authors point out in this paper it is difficult to determine if the baby was born with the infection or was seeded with virus at birth and then tested positive at that point. This story made the news and sparked a lot of questions about whether newborns could be infected.
The latest story to hit the news though is more worrisome as it leaves little to the question of when the infant was infected. Newborn baby tests positive for coronavirus in London from the Guardian as well as other sources publicized that a newborn who was swabbed within minutes of birth tested positive. This is enough to strike fear in just about everyone but there are questions that need to be answered before panic can set in. There really are little if any details about this patient. Were they symptomatic or was a nasopharyngeal swab positive for the virus alone? While it is tempting to link the infected newborn with transmission from amniotic fluid, there are other sources of virus such as blood and stool that can be present at delivery from the mother than could have yielded the positive result.
What does the evidence say about amniotic fluid
Bear in mind the data is sparse but here is what we know about amniotic fluid thus far. In a recent paper in the Lancet entitled Clinical characteristics and intrauterine vertical transmission potential of COVID-19 infection in nine pregnant women: a retrospective review of medical records. some good information was found. It is important to note that all of the infants were born via c-section so the issue of potential contamination by stool or blood was greatly reduced. All of these women had their amniotic fluid sampled and all nine tested negative for the virus. Yes I realize nine samples does not totally guarantee that virus cannot be transmitted into amniotic fluid but it is certainly reassuring as they were pure samples. Also notable was that none of the babies in the study presented with any symptoms of respiratory distress.
Additionally another recent paper Infants Born to Mothers With a New Coronavirus (COVID-19) in Frontiers of Pediatrics demonstrated no neonatal infections in the three infants whose parents consented to testing for COVID-19. Presumably their amniotic fluid was free of virus as well.
Planning for deliveries
In the twitter world this week there was much discussion about this issue. To use PPE including an N95 mask or not. I would love to tell you what you should do but that is up to your own institutions and their risk tolerance. While the media can certainly sensationalize things (and these two cases above haven’t helped stop that), the evidence would suggest at this time that these newborns are not born infected for the most part. One of the issues though is sample size for sure. How many pregnant women with COVID-19 have there been to this point? Hard to say especially since not every person can be tested. For the time being though my bet is that these babies are not born viremic but may be contaminated at birth. How long the virus takes to grab hold of the newborn and possibly cause disease is a different story altogether. Once a baby is in an NICU and develops symptoms our approach must be more cautious.
We will have to see where this all goes but be careful out there.