Some babies born to coronavirus-infected mothers already have antibodies against the viral disease, one of the UK’s top doctors revealed today.
Dr Patrick O’Brien, vice president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said a ‘very small’ number of newborns seemed to have developed an immune response against the virus while still inside the womb.
Antibodies are substances produced in response to infection and are stored by the immune system to fight off the same virus, if it returns in the future.
IgM antibodies – which the body makes when it first becomes infected – cannot be transferred from mother to child through the placenta, meaning the babies must have developed them on their own, scientists said.
IgM antibodies are formed early and essentially incite the immune system to destroy the virus, while other types – mainly IgG antibodies – store the memories of what to attack for years after someone has had an illness.
This suggests mothers pass the life-threatening disease to their unborn children in the womb, a theory that has been debated throughout the crisis.
Some experts had previously argued that babies with Covid-19 were catching it from their mothers after birth, or from an infected midwife or doctor in the hospital.
The finding was revealed in the UK’s first major study into coronavirus’s effect on mothers-to-be, which looked at 427 women infected with the disease across the country.
It comes on the same day a healthy 13-day-old baby became Britain’s youngest Covid-19 victim. It is unclear how the baby — whose gender wasn’t revealed — caught the virus.
Some babies born to mothers infected with coronavirus appear to already have antibodies against the viral disease, one of the UK’s top doctors revealed today (stock image)
Despite the death, Dr O’Brien said results from the UK Obstetric Surveillance System (UKOSS) study were ‘very reassuring’ and suggested women and their babies were not at an increased risk of falling badly ill with Covid-19.
Announcing the findings at a virtual press conference today, he said: ‘The take home message from this study is that this infection still – as far as we can tell – does not seem worse for pregnant women than it is for anyone else.’
Dr O’Brien said 10 per cent of women in the study became seriously ill and had to be put on a ventilator, which was similar to the rate in the general population.
The research was published in the British Medical Journal.
CHILDREN ARE 56% LESS LIKELY TO CATCH CORONAVIRUS THAN ADULTS, STUDIES FIND
Children have half the chance of catching coronavirus as adults, leading British scientists have found.
University College London researchers analysed 18 studies looking into the link between the viral disease and children.
They found the risk of catching COVID-19 in children and teenagers was 56 per cent lower compared to adults over 20.
The scientists say their findings imply children are likely to play a lesser role in transmission of the disease because fewer of them get infected in the first place.
In the largest study of its kind, UCL scientists analysed 6,000 international scientific papers looking into children’s susceptibility to infection and severity of illness.
Of them, just 18 were found to be of high enough quality to be considered in their analysis – half of which had not been peer-reviewed (scrutinised by other scientists).
Nine were contact-tracing studies, where researchers tracked close contacts of diagnosed patients.
Eight were population-screening studies, whereby random samples of society were tested for the virus.
And one was a systematic review of small household clusters, where entire families had been infected.
It found that five women died during childbirth – fewer than one per cent of all the participants – but not all of these deaths were caused by Covid, Dr O’Brien said.
One in 20 (five per cent) of babies tested positive for the virus, but they all ‘lived very well’, the obstetrician revealed.
He said it was ‘probably’ the case that most of these children caught the virus through the placenta of their mothers.
But he said he couldn’t rule out the possibility some caught it from their parent, or a midwife, after birth.
More than half (56 per cent) of the women who had Covid-19 were from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds, which Dr O’Brien described as ‘worrying’.
BAME groups are known to be more at risk of catching and falling severely unwell with Covid-19, for reasons scientists haven’t yet pinned down.
During the study there was no increase in spontaneous premature births, something which had been reported in China, or babies requiring ventilation, Dr O’Brien said.
He added: ‘Can babies get infected through placenta in womb or during childbirth? Probably, yes. But they might’ve caught infection after birth from a member or staff or their mother.
‘A very small number of babies in their own blood have had the IgM against this virus. We know it [IgM] does not cross the placenta… so this would really suggests these babies had developed an immune response against the virus while still inside the uterus.
‘So I think where we are at the moment is that it seems likely, or possible at least, that the virus does get across to the baby through the placenta.
‘But it seems even if it does, it’s a small proportion of babies and none of those babies have been seriously affected by infection.’
On the back of the study, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists is still recommending Covid-positive mother breast feed their children.
The College said that separating mothers and babies at birth was more detrimental than the risk of Covid for infants.
Just a handful of children have caught the coronavirus in Britain, and experts believe infants’ risk of contracting the virus is ‘unbelievably low’.
Doctors say infected children are far more likely to have no symptoms than they are to develop a severe case of COVID-19.
Pictured: Baby born by emergency C section before her mother nurse died from Covid-19 as grieving husband says she should not have been working in hospital while heavily-pregnant
This heartbreaking picture shows a baby born by emergency c-section shortly before her mother died from coronavirus – as the grieving husband says his heavily-pregnant wife should not have been working in hospital at the time.
Mary Agyeiwaa Agyapong passed away just days after being admitted to Luton and Dunstable Hospital on Tuesday April 7, where she worked as a nurse.
The 28-year-old, who was 35 weeks pregnant when she tested positive for Covid-19, underwent an emergency caesarean to save her daughter. The little girl was born, but tragically the mother died just days later on Easter Sunday.
Two weeks before her death, her father Stephen, also died of suspected Covid-19.
Her widowed husband Ernest Boateng, 30, has told the BBC that Mary was officially on sick leave before the first Covid-19 patient was admitted on to her ward, and paid tribute to his ‘very kind’ wife.
The 28-year-old, who was 35 weeks pregnant when she tested positive for Covid-19, underwent an emergency caesarean to save her daughter (pictured).
Mary Agyeiwaa Agyapong, 28, pictured left, died after undergoing an emergency caesarean to deliver and save her baby daughter Two weeks before her death, her father Stephen, (pictured right) also died of suspected Covid-19
Her widowed husband Ernest Boateng, 30, has told the BBC that Mary was officially on sick leave before the first Covid-19 patient was admitted on to her ward, and paid tribute to his ‘very kind’ wife
Speaking from his home in Luton, Ernest said: ‘When Mary passed, I had a call from one of the union reps.
‘He told me confidentially that he had met Mary on the ward, and told her, Mary it’s not safe for you, you need to get out of here.
‘But she said she couldn’t help it. She was helpless.’
Ernest told the BBC that his wife of three and a half years was ‘really worried’ – and used to come home from work, undress on the doorstep, and go straight to have a shower before even stopping to talk to him.
He said: ‘There is no amount of words that can really explain how I’m feeling within.
‘She was very kind. Her heart was pure, and she was very genuine. We know everybody is not perfect, but Mary was.
‘We all wish she was here to breastfeed her daughter, and to see her grow and give her the best of care.’
Colleagues at Luton and Dunstable Hospital said Mary (pictured) was ‘a fabulous nurse, and a great example of what we stand for’
An inquest opening, held last month (May 21) at Bedfordshire Coroner’s Court, gave Mary’s cause of death as pneumonia and Covid-19.
A further inquest hearing is listed for September 30.
When contacted this morning, Mr Boateng declined to comment further and referred callers to his lawyer.
Her brother Charles Agyapong previously told MailOnline: ‘We are now mourning for two members of our family – first my father and now Mary. It is a very hard time for us. We need time to grieve.’
Mary was eight months pregnant when she died and stopped working at 28 weeks, as permitted in official guidance, which hospital bosses said they followed.
However, it led to calls at the time for a rethink, with campaigners insisting: ‘All pregnant women shouldn’t be on the frontline.’
Organisations supporting pregnant healthcare workers across the UK previously said hundreds were told they must work – sometimes without PPE – even though they feared for the lives of their unborn children.
Joeli Brearley, founder of campaign group Pregnant Then Screwed, said: ‘The death of Mary Agyeiwaa Agyapong could have been prevented.
‘A child will now grow up without her mother – this tragedy could have been prevented.’
Pictured: Luton and Dunstable Hospital The Bedfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust told the BBC: ‘We were extremely saddened to lose Mary
Mary tested positive for Covid-19 and was admitted to hospital on April 7 and had the emergency caesarean within days.
Doctors initially thought the nurse was showing signs of improving afterwards but her symptoms got worse again and she died on Sunday.
Health secretary Matt Hancock described Mary’s story as a ‘terrible one’ in an interview with BBC Breakfast.
He added: ‘It’s something that I feel very strongly and I think the whole country, uniting as we are in our support for the NHS and carers across the board.
‘We are all deeply touched and moved by deaths of nurses like this.’
The Bedfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust told the BBC: ‘We were extremely saddened to lose Mary. She worked here for five years and was a highly valued and loved member of our team, a fantastic nurse and a great example of what we stand for in this Trust.
‘We have carried out a full internal review into the circumstances surrounding her death and we are confident that she received the best possible care and support from the Trust.
‘We have sent our deepest condolences to Mr Boateng, and are currently working through a number of issues he has raised.’