COVID-19 in pregnant women and the impact on newborns


Clinical question: How does infection with severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) in pregnant mothers affect their newborns?

Dr. Weijen Chang

Dr. Weijen Chang

Background: A novel coronavirus, now named SARS-CoV-2 by the World Health Organization (previously referred to as 2019-nCoV), is currently causing a worldwide pandemic. It is believed to have originated in Hubei province, China, but is now rapidly spreading in other countries. Although its effects are most severe in the elderly, SARS-CoV-2 has been infecting younger patients, including pregnant women. The effect of COVID-19, the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2, in pregnant women on their newborn children, is unknown, as is the nature of perinatal transmission of SARS-CoV-2.

Study design: Retrospective analysis.

Setting: Five hospitals in Hubei province, China.

Synopsis: Researchers retrospectively analyzed the clinical features and outcomes of 10 neonates (including two twins) born to nine mothers with confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection in five hospitals in Hubei province, China, during Jan. 20–Feb. 5, 2020. The mothers were, on average, 30 years of age, but their prior state of health was not described. SARS-CoV-2 infection was confirmed in eight mothers by SARS-CoV-2 nucleic acid testing (NAT). The twins’ mother was diagnosed with COVID-19 based on chest CT scan showing viral interstitial pneumonia with other causes of fever and lung infection being “excluded,” despite a negative SARS-CoV-2 NAT test.

Symptoms occurred in the following:

  • Before delivery in four mothers, three of whom were treated with oseltamivir (Tamiflu) after delivery.
  • On the day of delivery in two mothers, one of whom was treated with oseltamivir and nebulized inhaled interferon after delivery.
  • After delivery in three mothers.

Seven mothers delivered by cesarean section and two by vaginal delivery. Prenatal complications included intrauterine distress in six mothers, premature rupture of membranes in three (5-7 hours before onset of true labor), abnormal amniotic fluid in two, “abnormal” umbilical cord in two, and placenta previa in one.

The neonates born to these mothers included two females and eight males; four were full-term and six were premature (degree of prematurity not described). Symptoms first observed in these newborns included shortness of breath (six), fevers (two), tachycardia (one), and vomiting, feeding intolerance, “bloating,” refusing milk, and “gastric bleeding.” Chest radiographs were abnormal in seven newborns, including evidence of “infection” (four), neonatal respiratory distress syndrome (two), and pneumothorax (one). Two cases were described in detail:

  • A neonate delivered at 34+5/7 weeks gestational age, was admitted due to shortness of breath and “moaning.” Eight days later, the neonate developed refractory shock, multiple organ failure, disseminated intravascular coagulation requiring transfusions of platelets, red blood cells, and plasma. He died on the ninth day.
  • A neonate delivered at 34+6 weeks gestational age and was admitted 25 minutes after delivery due to shortness of breath and “moaning.” He required 2 days of noninvasive support/oxygen therapy and was observed to later develop “oxygen fluctuations” and thrombocytopenia at 3 days of life. The neonate was treated with “respiratory support,” intravenous immunoglobulin, transfusions of platelets and plasma, hydrocortisone (5 mg/kg per day for 6 days), low-dose heparin (2 units/kg per hr for 6 days), and low molecular weight heparin (2 units/kg per hr for 6 days). He was described to be “cured” 15 days later.

All nine neonates underwent pharyngeal swabs for SARS-CoV-2 NAT, and all were negative.

Bottom line: Although data are currently very limited, neonates born to mothers with COVID-19 appear to be at risk for adverse outcomes, including fetal distress, respiratory distress, thrombocytopenia associated with abnormal liver function, and death. There was no evidence of vertical transmission in this study.

Citation: Zhu H et al. Clinical analysis of 10 neonates born to mothers with 2019-nCoV pneumonia. Transl Pediatr. 2020 Feb;9(1):51-60.

Dr. Chang is chief of pediatric hospital medicine at Baystate Children’s Hospital in Springfield, Mass., and associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Massachusetts, also in Springfield.

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