Covid-19 could affect the brain development of babies in the womb

According to a study published in JAMA Network Open, infants exposed to Covid-19 in utero are more likely to be diagnosed with neurodevelopmental disorders within the first year after birth. This adds to a large body of research highlighting the importance of vaccination during pregnancy, and could point to a much bigger problem when children born during the pandemic grow up.

highlights

  • Neurodevelopmental disorders encompass a wide range of problems related to the development of the brain and nervous system, such as autism, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, learning disabilities and cerebral palsy.
  • While many disorders are typically diagnosed much later in life, diagnoses of neurodevelopmental disorders related to speech, language and motor functioning problems were “significantly more common” in infants exposed to Covid-19 in utero, according to the researchers.
  • These findings are based on a study of 7,772 children born in Massachusetts hospitals during the pandemic, 222 of whom had parents who tested positive during their pregnancy.
  • The connection also held after the researchers considered other factors that may affect rates of neurodevelopmental disorders, including race, insurance status, maternal age, gender, offspring and preterm birth, a known and more likely risk factor in pregnant women who have had Covid19.
  • The rates of neurodevelopmental disorders were particularly high in infants exposed during the third trimester, the researchers said, although it’s not clear why.
  • The researchers said their findings underscore the urgent need for further research into how Covid-19 affects child development and to confirm the link they have identified.

key context

These findings highlight another set of potential dangers that the pandemic poses to pregnant women and their children. Pregnant women infected with Covid-19 are at much higher risk of serious illness and death, they are much more likely to have premature births and serious complications. Children born prematurely are more likely to have short- and long-term health problems, including behavioral problems and heart problems. Although vaccination cannot eliminate all risks of infection, it has been repeatedly shown to be a surefire way to reduce the risks of Covid-19 for both parents and child. Despite this, vaccination coverage among pregnant women remains low.

What we don’t know

The extent and nature of the association between exposure to Covid-19 in utero and neurodevelopmental disorders. Because the research is observational, it cannot establish a definitive causal link between Covid-19 and the higher rate of neurodevelopmental disorders, nor suggest a mechanism that explains this phenomenon. While other explanations are possible — there could be several variables that the researchers did not adequately consider — the researchers note that other maternal infections, including those caused by viruses such as influenza, are consistently associated with higher rates of neurological ones in exposed children developmental disabilities are associated.

to monitor

Problems that arise as children grow. This study focuses on children one year after birth, and we are just over two years from the start of the pandemic. Because many neurodevelopmental disorders are not diagnosed or manifested until later in childhood, and many are not diagnosed until adolescence or adulthood, it is difficult to fully appreciate the true extent of the problem. In a comment on the study, Dr. Torri Metz, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Utah, said the results were “critical, but many questions remain.” The study has raised a number of additional questions about how the virus affects development, Dr. Metz, including whether it matters if the child is exposed in the womb, what variant it is (the study was conducted in 2020 when early variants like the original Strain and Alpha were circulating), and whether anything was being done can be used to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on children.

Article translated from Forbes US – Author: Robert Hart

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