Coronavirus: Doctors aren't sure newborn who tested positive was infected in the womb or after birth

Doctors speculate that coronavirus might share a common feature with HIV and Zika where pregnant mothers may be able to pass on infection to their babies


                            Coronavirus: Doctors aren't sure newborn who tested positive was infected in the womb or after birth
(Chinatopix via AP)

Doctors in China speculate that coronavirus might share a common feature with HIV and Zika — pregnant mothers may be able to pass on the infection to their unborn children.

This comes after Wuhan doctors reported a case of a coronavirus positive woman giving birth to a healthy baby. Unfortunately, the infant ended up testing positive after just 30 hours.

Coronavirus in the country is showing no signs of slowing down. It has infected at least 28,018 people and killed 563. The 30-hour-old infant is the youngest person to have contracted the virus.

The infant appears to be currently stable — showing no signs of fever or cough — but experienced shortness of breath with some abnormalities in liver function, according to reports.

Initial data has suggested that children are not vulnerable to the virus. One study said that the average of the infected patient was 55 years and among those who died, the average was over 75. Another study said that children are usually not infected but when they do, they show milder symptoms.

Initial data has suggested that children are not vulnerable to the virus (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

This new case, however, opens up a possibility that a mother could transfer the virus to her child through three different routes — in the womb, during delivery or breastfeeding.

"We should be concerned about the possible new transmission route of the coronavirus," Zeng Lingkong, a senior physician at the Wuhan children's hospital neonatal department, told South China Morning Post. He added that pregnant women should stay away from infected people.

It's too early to know for sure

"We are still in the deep learning curve about this virus," Dr Peter Hotez, dean of National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, told The Guardian. "There's more we don't know than we do know" about the coronavirus, he added.

Hotez has reservations about this line of transmission between a mother and child. This stems from the fact that such behavior in viruses is uncommon, especially among respiratory illnesses such as the coronavirus; meaning it spreads through respiratory droplets.

This is not the case with HIV. It spreads among people through exposure to infected blood. And newborns usually tend to get infected during labor and delivery through exposure to the infected mother's blood and bodily fluids.

The evidence to support this hypothesis is weak at present. "As far as I am aware there is currently no evidence that the novel coronavirus can be transmitted in the womb. If a baby does get infected with coronavirus a few days after birth we currently cannot tell if the baby was infected in the womb or during birth," Paul Hunter, a professor in medicine, at the University of East Anglia in the UK, told the Guardian.

Besides, its closest relatives — SARS and MERS —  have a higher chance of causing a miscarriage than to be passed on in the womb, Hunter adds.

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