There is "strong evidence" that COVID-19 positive mothers can pass the virus on to their unborn children, scientists said on Thursday. This could affect how pregnant women are protected during the pandemic.
Although there have been isolated cases of babies infected with the virus, the results show the strongest connection between mother and child transmission so far.
Researchers in Italy examined 31 pregnant women hospitalized with COVID-19 and found the virus in a placenta, an umbilical cord, a woman's vagina, and breast milk.
They also identified specific COVID-19 antibodies in the umbilical cords of several pregnant women and in milk samples.
Claudio Fenizia from the University of Milan and lead study author said the results "suggest" that in vitro transmission is possible.
"Given the number of people infected worldwide, the number of women who could be affected could be very high," he told AFP.
Fenizia emphasized that none of the infants born during the study period tested positive for COVID-19.
"Although transmission in the uterus appears to be possible, it is still too early to clearly assess the risk and possible consequences," he said.
The World Health Organization said last month that new mothers infected with COVID-19 should continue breastfeeding.
"We know that children have a relatively low risk of COVID-19, but a high risk of numerous other diseases and conditions that prevent breastfeeding," said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
Among other things, the team identified a specific inflammatory response that was triggered by COVID-19 in the placenta and in the umbilical cord blood plasma of women.
Fenizia said that the women examined were all in their third trimester given the timeframe of the Italian epidemic, adding that further studies are underway among COVID-19 positive women in the early stages of pregnancy.
"Our study aims to raise awareness and invite the scientific community to consider pregnancy in positive women as an urgent issue to further characterize and dissect it," he said.
"I believe that promoting prevention is the safer advice we could possibly give these patients right now."
The study was published during a weeklong international AIDS conference that took place online for the first time in its history due to the pandemic.
(This story was not edited by NDTV staff and is generated automatically from a syndicated feed.)