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Even asymptomatic COVID cases in pregnant mothers could cause problems for newborns, UK study suggests

mother covid
Eric Gay/AP
The toes of a baby born to a mom with COVID-19 are seen at DHR Health, Wednesday, July 29, 2020, in McAllen, Texas. The hospital lets COVID-positive mothers call the nursery over a video chat. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

COVID-19 infections during pregnancy, even those that go unnoticed, could lead to possible adverse long-term effects for a developing baby — that’s according to new research out of the University of Kentucky.

Dr. Ilhem Messaoudi led the study, which was published in Cell Reports on May 25. She tells UKNow, while severe COVID cases were known to cause inflammation in the placenta, the new research suggests that could happen even in cases that go unnoticed.

"We looked at mothers who had basically asymptomatic or very mild infection, so mostly moms who tested positive at delivery, and we're finding that the maternal immune system has more activated T-cells. So even though it was an asymptomatic infection, the maternal T-cells were activated and the maternal-fetal interface has very clear signs of having sensed that there was an infection."
Dr. Ilhem Messaoudi, chair of the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Molecular Genetics

While transmission of the virus between mother and baby is thought to be extremely rare, there are risks for the fetus if the mother’s immune response triggers inflammation in the placenta. That can lead to problems ranging from pre-term labor to neonatal complications caused by reduced immune function of the baby.

The results, Messaoudi says, also suggest "if an asymptomatic infection can have such huge changes occurring at the maternal-fetal interface... severe infection could really have some major detrimental impacts."

Messaoudi says the study provides even more support for COVID-19 vaccination in pregnant mothers.

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.