A recent Covid-19 case discovered in Skåne University Hospital, in Malmo, Sweden has scientists and medical professionals stumped. A 34-week pregnant woman was rushed to the hospital via ambulance after reporting severe abdominal pain.
After an examination in the ER, the doctors discovered that the woman’s unborn baby had an abnormally low heart rate. This was a warning sign that the baby wasn’t getting enough oxygen. The doctors decided that the baby needed to be delivered prematurely via a cesarean section. It later turned out that the cause of the problem was that both the woman and her still-unborn child had contracted Covid-19.
After the successful delivery of the baby, both the child and mother were placed in isolation in the hospital. Blood tests of the baby confirmed a severely low oxygen count and that the emergency C-section was the right call. What’s more, throat swabs of both the child and its mother showed that they were suffering from Covid-19.
The possibility of them catching the virus after the baby’s delivery in the hospital is believed to be non-existent for two reasons – 1) the baby was kept in isolation both from its mother and from other family members from the moment it was delivered and 2) the baby and its mother were infected by the same viral genome.
This led researchers to the conclusion that the baby got infected with Covid-19 while still in the womb.
A very rare occurrence
The scientists who examined the baby and its mother were quick to publish their results in The British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology as such viral transmissions in the womb are incredibly rare.
Pregnant women’s placenta is typically strong enough to prevent any viruses and bacteria from transferring from the mother to her unborn child. But in this case, the placenta was damaged by widespread inflammations caused by the coronavirus. This allowed not only for Covid-19 to successfully pass from the mother to her child but it also hindered the placenta’s ability to pass oxygen and other nutrients.
This isn’t just speculation either as the scientists reported finding Covid-19 proteins in all damaged areas of the placenta.
A unique mutation
What made this mother’s case even more troublesome is that subsequent Covid-19 tests found that the baby’s coronavirus infection had mutated after birth. While the initial throat swabs identified both the mother’s and child’s Covid-19 cases to be identical, tests done five days later discovered that the child’s virus had mutated into a new Covid-19 strain that’s now called A107G.
Fortunately, thanks to the hospital’s isolation policy, the new strain was contained and no further transmissions have been identified.
A successful recovery
The story does have a happy ending. The child’s mother made a quick recovery after childbirth and was discharged from the hospital 4 days later with only mild Covid-19 symptoms.
The baby itself had to be kept under neonatal care as it was born prematurely but its unique Covid-19 strain also seems to have passed with no additional complications.
No significant damage has been recorded in the child’s lungs or other internal organs and the brief oxygen deprivation doesn’t seem to have had any significant long-term effects either.
The Skåne University Hospital scientists even found Covid-19 antibodies in the baby’s blood that weren’t present in its mother’s milk, meaning that the child’s immune system managed to deal with the virus on its own.