Digital Desk, London. An unborn baby can become infected with corona when exposed to the SARS-CoV-2 virus. This claim has been made in a new study. The study, led by researchers from University College London, found that some fetal organs, such as the intestine, are more vulnerable to infection than others. However, the researchers said the opportunities for the coronavirus to infect the fetus are extremely limited, as the placenta acts as a highly effective and protective shield.
Dr Mattia Gerli, from UCL’s Division of Surgery and Interventional Science and the Royal Free Hospital, said, “Our findings suggest that clinical infection of the fetus during pregnancy is possible. However, this is unusual and it is reassuring for parents. For the study published in BJOG – An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, the researchers set out to understand how corona antibodies might develop in newborns, as reported in very few cases. To find out, the researchers examined several fetal organs and placenta tissue made available through the Human Developmental Biology Resource (HDBR) Biobank, which aids in fetal research.
The team examined the presence of the protein receptors ACE2 and TMPRSS2 and found them to be essential for infecting and spreading the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The researchers found that the intestine and kidney were the only organs in the fetus that contained both ACE2 and TMPRSS2. After birth the ACE2 and TMPRSS2 receptors are known to be present in combination on the surface of cells in the human gut as well as in the lungs. It is also suspected to be the main route for corona infection, but the intestine is most important for virus infection in young children.
In the second half of pregnancy, the fetus is known to begin swallowing amniotic fluid, Gerli explained. To cause infection, the SARS-CoV-2 virus would need to be present in significant amounts in the amniotic fluid that surrounds the fetus. He said, however, that several studies in maternity care have found that the amniotic fluid around the fetus usually does not contain the SARS-CoV2 virus, even if the mother is infected with the corona.