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COVID-19 during pregnancy harms the baby’s brain?

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Pregnant or recently pregnant women are more susceptible to severe COVID-19 illness than other women, according to many studies and the CDC.

Pregnancy involves physiological changes that may make it easier to become very ill from respiratory viruses like COVID-19. These alterations in the body might last long after the baby is born.

However, not much is known about the potential effects on an unborn child if the mother becomes infected while pregnant. The likelihood and consequences of vertical transmission, or the transmission of the virus from the mother to the fetus, are still unknown.

“Women infected with SARS-CoV-2 during pregnancy are concerned that the virus may affect the development of their unborn child, as is the case with some other viral infections,” says study senior author Sophia Stöcklein from Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, in Germany.

“So far, although there are a few reports of vertical transmission to the fetus, the exact risk and impact remain largely unclear. The aim of our study was to fill this gap in knowledge regarding the impact of a maternal SARS-CoV-2 infection on fetal brain development.”

Dr. Stöcklein and colleagues studied 33 patients with COVID-19 infection during pregnancy using fetal MRI. On average, the patients were 28 weeks into their pregnancies when symptoms began, with symptom start happening at slightly over 18 weeks. The most prevalent maternal symptoms included a loss or reduction in sense of smell and taste, a dry cough, fever, and shortness of breath.

The scans were examined by two board-certified radiologists with extensive fetal MRI experience. They discovered that all fetuses’ brain growth in the tested areas was age-appropriate. There were no indications that the fetal brain had been infected.

“In our study, there was no evidence that a maternal SARS-CoV-2 infection has any effect on the brain development of the unborn child,” says Dr. Stöcklein.

“This fact should help to reassure affected parents.”

But, this study, Dr. Stöcklein cautioned, included only moms with mild to moderate symptoms who were not hospitalized.

“Since the impact of severe infection on brain development in the fetus has not been conclusively determined, active protection against SARS-CoV-2 infection during pregnancy remains important,” she says.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises vaccination for all individuals aged 12 and older, including pregnant women and those considering pregnancy. According to the CDC, the immunization can provide protection against serious illness.

“So far, vaccination is the most promising protection against COVID-19,” adds Dr. Stöcklein. “Any potential side effects are manageable, even in pregnant women. Therefore, despite the encouraging results of our study, pregnant women should strongly consider vaccination.”

The team will follow the patients for five years, performing extensive newborn assessments as well as brain development assessments.

Source: RSNA.org/press21 – RADIOLOGICAL SOCIETY OF NORTH AMERICA

Image Credit: Getty

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