MIAMI (WSVN) - A new study from doctors at the University of Miami revealed that COVID-19 may cause brain damage in infants when transmitted from the mother during pregnancy.
This is the first study of its kind and provides significant evidence of the impact of the virus on infants.
Dr. Michael Paidas, Dr. Ali G. Saad and Dr. Merline Benny at the Miller School of Medcine, discussed the results of the study with 7News on Thursday.
“This is the first time that we’ve been able to demonstrate the virus in a fetal organ,” said Paidas.
“We found evidence that the virus, indeed, crossed the placenta and infected the embryo,” said Saad.
The study was based on two infants admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit at Holtz Children’s Hospital. Although both infants tested negative for the virus at birth, they had antibodies detected in their blood.
“Which suggests that the COVID antibodies must have crossed from the mother to the placenta to the baby,” said Benny.
“This is over 12 months after delivery that we are seeing this,” said Paidas. “Antinatally, we’re not seeing the brain malformations in COVID-positive patients, unlike other viral conditions.”
Both babies had seizures, small head sizes and developmental delays, and one of the infants died by 13 months.
The two mothers contracted COVID-19 in their second trimester, and the study confirmed that the virus can breach a mother’s placenta, causing brain damage to the babies. Other infants showed transmission of lung disease and blood pressure issues.
“The functional unit of the placenta are smaller, and the cells within these [samples] rely on undergoing apoptosis or necrosis,” said Saad. “Upon examing the brain, I was struck by the amount of loss of white matter.”
White matter is found in the deeper tissues of the brain, and it contains nerve fibers, extensions of the nerve cells, which are a crucial part of brain functionality.
The researchers noted that these occurrences are rare and that hundreds of pregnant women with COVID-19 seen by UM clinicians gave birth without their infants suffering a brain injury, lung disease or blood pressure issues.
“This is the striking part about this: one patient, severely sick, had to be delivered from maternal indications to help her get through this and survive, literally, and the other case was completely asymptomatic, so they couldn’t be further different,” said Paidas.
Doctors said that the two mothers were infected with the delta variant, and one of them was re-infected during the third trimester. They were not vaccinated because at the time of their pregnancies, vaccinations were not available.
Doctors have a message for mothers.
“Most women who contract COVID go on to have healthy babies, OK?” said Dr. Shahnaz Duara with Holtz Children’s Hospital. “But there is a subpopulation of people who have babies who are sick, and so, this is not to panic the population whose babies may have been exposed to COVID in pregnancy, but we do think that these are the extremes, and we do think, if you’ve had COVID during pregnancy, it’s something you should tell your pediatrician.”
The researchers stressed that more studies need to be done to fully understand why these two babies suffered such severe injuries.
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