Increased Neurodevelopmental Risks for Offspring Whose Mothers Contracted COVID During Pregnancy

June 27, 2022

Concerning Study Reports that 6.3% of Fetuses Exposed to COVID In Utero Received a Developmental Diagnosis By 12 Months

A new preliminary study has found that children born to mothers who tested positive for COVID-19 during pregnancy had an increased risk of a developmental disorder by one year of age. The study, conducted by a research team led by Roy H. Perlis, M.D. M. Sc. at Massachusetts General Hospital, surveilled electronic medical records covering births at six Massachusetts hospitals between March 2020 and September 2020. Altogether, the records captured 7,772 live births to 7,466 women. A total of 222 mothers in the cohort received a positive PCR test for COVID-19 during their pregnancy. In all, 14 of 222 exposed offspring (6.3%) and 227 of 7550 unexposed offspring (3.0%) received a neurodevelopmental disorder diagnosis within 12 months of life. Previous research has demonstrated that maternal infection during pregnancy is associated with adverse neurodevelopmental outcomes in offspring. These adverse neurodevelopmental outcomes can include autism, schizophrenia, cerebral palsy, cognitive dysfunction, bipolar disorder, anxiety, and depression. While most of these disorders take years to develop, conditions such as cognitive dysfunction can be detected in the first years of life. The disorders registered in this research were related to motor function and speech. This study suggests that maternal infection during pregnancy and increased neurodevelopmental risk are due to inflammation caused by the mother’s infection. Furthermore, it proposes that fetal brain development may be impacted by the mother’s immune response to inflammation which can be communicated via the placenta. The research also discovered that COVID infection during the third trimester was the most detrimental to the fetus and that mothers with COVID infection were significantly more likely to have given birth prematurely (14.4% vs. 8.7%). All infants born prematurely have a higher risk of neurodevelopmental disorders than full-term infants. However, after accounting for preterm delivery, the team discovered the odds of neurodevelopmental diagnosis for offspring were still 86% higher in infected mothers. Perlis and his co-authors are calling for additional research that performs larger and longer-lasting follow-up studies investigating the impact of COVID infection during pregnancy on mothers and their offspring. 

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