A pregnant woman and her newborn baby are transferred by a nurse on February 21, 2020 in Wuhan, Hubei, China. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/WANG HE
A pregnant woman and her newborn baby are transferred by a nurse on February 21, 2020 in Wuhan, Hubei, China. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/WANG HE

The evidence that pregnant women may pass the Covid-19 virus to their unborn babies is gaining momentum‚ with a new Italian study confirming the vertical in utero transmission.

According to the University of Milan’s research‚ which was presented at the online 23rd International Aids Conference this week‚ placenta specimens from two women of 31 surveyed and their babies’ umbilical cords showed that there was presence of the virus‚ which caused inflammatory response in placenta and plasma. The two babies did not get ill from the virus.

Lead researcher Claudio Fenizia who presented the results of the study on Thursday‚ said though the results are preliminary‚ they did prove vertical transmission. “These two cases both have had positive placentas and the two babies were positive upon delivery. Overall through our study we believe that vertical transmission during pregnancy is possible‚” he said.

The study‚ which was carried out across three hospitals in Northern Italy‚ follows research done by the University of California which suggested that pregnant women may pass the virus to the foetus. In an editorial published in June in the American Journal of Perinatology the university’s chief of paediatric infectious disease Dean Blumberg‚ highlighted the importance of understanding the timing and the route of infection in maternal-fetal transmission. He suggested that if transmission occurred late in pregnancy‚ the newborn might be actively infected at the time of delivery.

“There is concern that the mother’s infection during pregnancy may result in transmission to the baby‚” said Blumberg.

In another study that was presented at the conference‚ Andrew Hill of Liverpool University presented promising results from a study of two hepatitis C drugs‚ sofosbuvir and daclatasvir — an alternative treatment for patients with severe Covid-19. Of the 66 adult patients in four Iranian hospitals who the drug combination was administered to‚ most had a better clinical recovery within 14 days‚ resulting in shorter hospital stays.

The death rate was only in 5% of the patients‚ but Hill said it is not yet time to celebrate as more and larger studies were needed to confirm the results. “We believe that it’s too early to reach a verdict with this trial.”

On the other hand‚ a University of California finding from a mass testing campaign that used PCR and antibody tests on about 4‚000 people regardless of symptoms‚ has found that 53% of patients were asymptomatic at the time of testing and 42% remained so.

The study also found that viral loads of Covid-19 virus in nasopharyngeal swabs were as high among those who were asymptomatic early on in infection as among symptomatic individuals. Researchers also established multiple strains of the virus in the same area‚ suggestive of multiple introductions of the virus over time.

More research on Covid-19 is expected to emerge‚ including promising data on new treatments‚ as the first Covid-19 Conference — the world’s first abstract-driven scientific meeting dedicated to the global pandemic — comes to an end.

Anthony Fauci‚ a leading infectious disease expert and director of the US’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases‚ described Covid-19 as every epidemiologist’s “worst nightmare” that has brought the globe to a standstill.

“As an infectious disease person I've often been asked over the years what is the worst nightmare that a public health official could have‚ and what are the things that we fear the most. And the answer has been consistent among me and my colleagues. It would be the emergence of a respiratory illness that is highly transmissible‚ that has significant degree of going from person to person‚ and that has significance of morbidity and mortality.

“As a matter of fact‚ unfortunately for our planet‚ that’s exactly where we are right now.”

But Fauci said with more than 100 vaccine trials at different stages of development across the world‚ there was hope that the virus could be defeated. “We hope that we have an answer to the safety and efficacy within the period of this year so that by the end of this year or beginning of 2021‚ if we are successful‚ we might have a vaccine that’s available‚” he said.

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