Babies exposed to COVID in womb can display neurodevelopmental changes

06 June 2022 23:51 IST

Washington [US]June 6 (ANI): Babies born to mothers who suffered COVID-19 disease during pregnancy appear to show differences in neurodevelopmental outcomes within 6 weeks, according to a preliminary analysis.
The analysis was presented at the 30th European Congress of Psychiatry.
Project leader Dr Rosa Ayesa Arriola said: “Not all babies born to mothers infected with COVID show neurodevelopmental differences, but our data shows that their risk is greater compared to those not exposed to COVID in utero. We have a larger study needed to confirm the exact magnitude of the difference”.
Researchers found that babies born to mothers who were infected have more trouble relaxing and their bodies adjusting when held compared to babies born to uninfected mothers, especially when the infection occurred at the end of pregnancy. In addition, babies born to infected mothers have more difficulty controlling head and shoulder movements. These changes suggest a possible COVID-19 effect on motor function (motion control).
The results come from an initial evaluation of the Spanish COGESTCOV-19 project, which tracked the course of pregnancy and baby development in mothers infected with COVID-19. The researchers present the data on pregnancy and postnatal assessment 6 weeks after birth, but the project will continue to look for longer-term effects. The group will monitor the language and motor development of babies between the ages of 18 and 42 months.
The first evaluation compared babies born to 21 COVID-positive pregnant women and their babies, with 21 healthy controls who attended Marques de Valdecilla University Hospital in Santander, Spain. The mothers underwent a series of tests during and after the pregnancy. These include hormonal and other biochemical tests (which measure things like cortisol levels, immune response, etc.), saliva tests, movement responses, and psychological questionnaires. All analyzes were adjusted for child’s age, gender, and other factors.
The postnatal tests include the Neonatal Behavioral Assessment Scale (NBAS), which measures the baby’s movements and behavior.
Researcher Ms Agueda Castro Quintas (University of Barcelona, ​​Network Center for Biomedical Research in Mental Health), said: “We found that certain elements of the NBAS measurement were altered in 6-week-old infants exposed to the SARS-COV -2 virus. In fact, they react slightly differently to being held or hugged.”
He added: “We have been particularly sensitive in the way we conducted these tests. Each mother and baby was closely examined by clinicians with expert training in the field and in the tests. We should note that these are preliminary results , but this is part of a project that is following a larger sample of 100 mothers and their babies. They have also been followed during pregnancy and after birth. We also plan to compare these mothers and babies with data from another similar project (the epi project) looking at the effect of stress and genetics on a child’s neurodevelopment”.
Agueda Castro Quintas continued: “This is an ongoing project and we are at an early stage. We found that babies whose mothers had been exposed to COVID showed neurological effects after 6 weeks, but we do not know if these effects will result in longer-term problems, longer-term observation can help us understand this.
Co-investigator Nerea San Martin Gonzalez added: “Obviously in babies so young there are several things that we just can’t measure, such as language ability or cognition. We also need to be aware that this is a relatively small sample, so we repeat.” the work, and we will follow this over a longer period of time. We need a larger sample size to determine the role of infection on the neurodevelopmental changes of the progeny and the contribution of other environmental factors. In the meantime, we must emphasize the importance of medical check-up to facilitate a healthy pregnancy, discuss any concerns with your doctor if necessary”.
In response, project leader Dr Rosa Ayesa Arriola said: “Now is the right time to engage in international collaborations that would enable us to assess long-term neurodevelopment in children born during the COVID-19 pandemic. Research in this area is vital to understanding and preventing potential neurological problems and psychological vulnerabilities in those children in the coming years.”
In an independent commentary, Dr. Livio Provenzi (University of Pavia, Italy): “There is a great need to study both the direct and indirect effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the health and well-being of parents and infants. Pregnancy is a period of life that defines much of our further development, and exposure to adversity during pregnancy can leave long-lasting biological footprints.These findings from Dr. Rosa Ayesa Arriola’s group bolster the evidence of epigenetic changes in infants born to exposed mothers It shows that we need more large-scale, international research to understand the developmental impacts of this health emergency and to provide better quality care for parents and babies.” (ANI)

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