Severe Covid-19 infection in newborns is rare, study suggests

A mother holds the feet of a new baby
A mother holds the feet of a new baby (PA Archive)
23:30pm, Mon 09 Nov 2020
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Severe coronavirus infection appears to be rare in newborn babies, a new study suggests.

At the peak of the first wave of the pandemic, researchers traced all babies less than 29 days old with Covid-19 across the UK, who needed to be admitted into hospital.

The study found 66 babies required hospital treatment for Covid-19 between the beginning of March and end of April, the equivalent of one in 1,785 births, or 0.06% of births.

More than two fifths (45%) of babies who developed severe infection were from black, Asian or minority ethnic groups, the researchers found.

While 24% of the babies were born prematurely.

Most babies only develop mild symptoms when infected with the virus and make a full recovery

According to the study published in The Lancet Child and Adolescent Health journal, these are both higher than would be expected from the UK birth population.

Chris Gale, co-lead author of the study from Imperial’s School of Public Health said: “Parents, and expectant parents, are understandably worried about their babies becoming ill with Covid-19.

“This study will hopefully provide some reassurance, as it suggests severe Covid-19 infection in newborns is very rare.

“Most babies only develop mild symptoms when infected with the virus and make a full recovery.

“This research also supports UK and international guidance to keep mother and baby together even when the mother is known or suspected to have Covid-19.”

Seventeen babies out of the 66 newborns in the study, were suspected to have caught the virus from their mother in the first seven days after birth.

Seven of these 17 babies developed the disease despite being separated from their mother immediately after birth.

Researchers say this supports UK and international guidance to keep mother and child together even when the mother is suspected or known to have Covid-19, say the team.

Six babies were thought to have contracted the virus while in hospital.

While none of the babies in the group died from Covid-19, one baby died, but this was not linked to coronavirus.

When the data was analysed nearly 90% of the babies had fully recovered from the infection, and had been discharged from hospital.

The findings suggest a higher proportion of newborns who develop severe disease will need intensive care or breathing support (36%), compared with older children (13%).

However, the study authors add that severe infection in newborn babies is still very rare.

Dr Gale added: “Although this study did show that six babies may have contracted hospital-acquired Covid-19, this data was from the beginning of the pandemic, and infection control measures on neonatal and paediatric units have improved dramatically over the past six months.”

The researchers say urgent investigation is needed to understand why so many of the babies admitted to hospital with severe Covid-19 were from black, Asian or minority ethnic groups.

The study, led by researchers from Imperial College London and the Nuffield Department of Population Health at the University of Oxford, revealed 17 of the babies were suspected to have caught the infection from their mother, with two of these babies potentially contracting it in the womb.

The main symptoms of infection in the babies in the study included high temperature, poor feeding, vomiting, a runny nose, cough and lethargy.

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