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Endre Szvetnik By Endre Szvetnik • July 30, 2020

COVID-19 FAQ: can pregnant or young mums infect their babies?

A recent small-scale study has found that mothers ill with COVID-19 did not pass on the disease to their newborns. Researchers have studied 120 babies who were born to infected mums.

mum and infant

According to their results if, after birth, the mothers wore facemasks, washed their hands frequently and mostly kept a 2 metres distance from the babies, they did not pass on the virus even through breastfeeding. In the study, all babies were non-infected when they were born. A week later about 80% of them were re-tested and were still virus-free. The test was repeated another week later with 60% of the babies who were again found to be SARS-CoV-2 negative. (The reduction in the number of tested babies was due to parents being reluctant to return to the clinic due to safety concerns during the pandemic.) Despite the lack of further tests in case of some of the babies, statistics show that less than 2% of babies of infected mothers are born with COVID-19 and they experience mild symptoms.
What are these pitfalls and how could IFN-based drugs help against COVID-19? Studies suggest type I and type III interferon-based drugs would have strong potential against the novel coronavirus. (Type I interferons are produced by every cell in the body, while type III are only made by epithelial, or ‘surface’ cells.) According to lab studies conducted on human lung cells both IFN-alpha (type I) and IFN-lambda (type III) have reduced the replication of SARS-CoV-2 by up to 90%. The drawback is that although IFN-alpha-based drugs can be very potent and induce side effects, such as insomnia, fatigue, mood swings and low blood counts. Additionally, INF-alpha is pro-inflammatory and can push the inflammation occurring after SARS-CoV-2 infection into a "cytokine storm", a dangerous immune overreaction that can be life-threatening for COVID-19 patients. INF-lambda appears to be safer in this respect as it has less pro-inflammatory properties. However, just like its sibling, it may have a drawback: a study suggested that if administered for too long or in a too high dose, it could disrupt the repair of lung cells damaged in a viral infection. Researchers suggest that it makes more sense to use either type of interferons in the early stages of the infection as potential antiviral drugs. Currently, there are several clinical trials running in the world testing the safety and efficacy of interferon-based drugs. Some trials have already shown that such drugs are safe. When licensed, they could help reduce the spread of infection by people experiencing mild COVID-19 and thus reduce the need for lengthy quarantines.
Here is the current state of science on a Sparrho pinboard. NB: The pinboard contains research papers that have not been peer-reviewed yet, meaning that they have not gone through the standard scientific validation process yet.

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