Explained: Why London doctors are closely watching a baby who has COVID-19

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A couple wear face masks at Buckingham Palace, London, on March 14. The UK has reported over 800 cases of coronavirus so far. (Photo: AP)

A newborn, whose mother was taken to a London hospital with suspected pneumonia days before its birth, has tested positive for COVID-19 in the UK. The mother too has contracted the infection. The baby is believed to be the youngest case of coronavirus, which was declared a pandemic by the WHO recently.

The UK has over 800 cases of coronavirus as of now.

Earlier in February, the BBC reported that a Chinese newborn was diagnosed with the virus 30 hours after birth. In this case, too, the baby’s mother had tested positive.

In its report, the BBC said that the baby, whose condition soon stabilised, could either have been infected in the womb or through the more conventional route — close contact with the mother.

According to initial data, children and infants are less affected by the coronavirus than adults.

COVID-19 and pregnancy

According to the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), pregnant women don’t seem to suffer more than the general population if they contract coronavirus. However, it adds that it is not clear how the virus would exactly affect pregnant women. “It is expected the large majority of pregnant women will experience only mild or moderate cold/flu like symptoms,” it said.

When it comes to the effects of the virus on the baby, RCOG maintains that as of now, there is no known risk of miscarriage if the mother tests positive for COVID-19.

“There is also no evidence that the virus can pass to your developing baby while you are pregnant (this is called vertical transmission). It is therefore considered unlikely that if you have the virus it will cause abnormalities in your baby," the RCOG said.

In case of the London baby, it is not yet clear if the infection was transmitted in the womb, during birth or after birth.

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In general, pregnant women are at a higher risk of complications arising from the flu and other viral respiratory infections, because they have a weaker immune system in preparation for a successful pregnancy. Therefore, pregnant women are being asked to be more careful in protecting themselves against COVID-19. This involves taking the same measures as the general public: washing hands with soap and water regularly and for at least 20 seconds, avoiding being around sick people, and covering cough using the elbow.

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Significantly, the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) has said that a small number of problems have been reported with pregnancy or delivery of babies born to mothers who tested positive for COVID-19, but it is not yet clear if these problems were a result of maternal infection.