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Newborns should be tested if mothers are Covid-19 positive or suspected to be infected: CDC

The advisory follows a few case reports which suggest that infants are at higher risk of suffering from severe forms of infections than older children
UPDATED MAY 22, 2020
(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Doctors must test all newborn babies whose mothers have confirmed or suspected Covid-19, according to new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The advisory follows a few case reports which suggest that infants are at higher risk of suffering from severe forms of infections than older children. The data on the topic is scant, but the CDC said it is important to stay cautious. 

Given the paucity of information regarding signs of Covid-19 in newborns, healthcare workers must consider all those born to mothers with confirmed or suspected Covid-19 as suspected cases, the CDC wrote on its website. For now, the data suggest that infants primarily contract the disease after birth. Mothers, caregivers, visitors, or healthcare personnel may be passing on the infections to infants through respiratory droplets, the health agency explained. A few studies, however, have suggested that babies may contract Covid-19 right before or during delivery -- but the CDC said it does not have information to confirm that.

The CDC advises widespread testing against this backdrop. They said babies must be tested at 24 hours after birth. If the test returns negative, the agency recommends another one the following day. But if the testing capacity is limited, the federal agency said priority should be given to babies showing signs of the diseases and infants who may have come into contact with an infected person or those who are hospitalized for long.

Babies must be tested at 24 hours after birth (Getty Images)

To reduce the risk of infection, the agency advises that newborns should be temporarily separated from mothers with suspected or confirmed infections. Keeping them in separate rooms and maintaining a physical distance of six feet and higher should help. Health workers can discontinue temporary separation if the mother tests negative. An earlier study from the CDC found children under the age of one develop a severe form of Covid-19 compared to older children. Of the cases reported in children aged between 0 and 18 years, only 15% occurred in infants. Despite the low proportion, they suffered the most.

Newborns with the infection show symptoms such as fever, lethargy, runny nose, cough, rapid breathing, vomiting, diarrhea, and decreased food intake. Although a majority showed no signs or had mild disease, some developed a severe infection and had to be hooked to a ventilator to support breathing. Infants could suffer more because they have weaker immunity. “The first year of life, children do not have the same robust immune response that older children and adults do," Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, professor of pediatrics at Stanford University School of Medicine and chair of the committee on infectious diseases at the American Academy of Pediatrics, told Time.

The CDC is trying to gain more insights into how the virus strikes infants. "Efforts are underway to address the knowledge gap of transmission between mother and neonate during pregnancy, delivery and in the postpartum period, and recommendations will be updated as new information informing the risk-benefit of maternal-infant separation is available," the CDC wrote on its website.