An Israeli hospital said on Tuesday that a fetus stillborn from a woman infected with the coronavirus was also found to be carrying the virus, having been infected via the placenta. It was the first such reported instance in Israel.
The hospital said there was therefore a high probability that the fetus had died from COVID-19 complications.
The 29-year-old woman, in her 25th week of pregnancy, arrived at the hospital over the weekend after two days of fever and COVID-19 symptoms, having realized that there was no fetal movement, Hebrew media reports said.
The woman tested positive for the coronavirus when she was admitted to the hospital and the baby was found to be carrying the virus in tests after the stillbirth.
“The fetus was infected through the placenta and with a very high degree of certainty, [we can say] died due to coronavirus,” Dr. Tal Brosh, head of the Infectious Disease Department at the Assuta Hospital in Ashdod, told the Ynet news site.
Dr. Yossi Tobin, the director of the maternity ward at the hospital, agreed that because the fetus was infected in utero, it was probable that the death was caused by the coronavirus.
“It was an intrauterine infection of the fetus, which can cause placental infection and death,” Tobin said. “This is a rare occurrence because a baby is usually infected with coronavirus after birth, as a result of contact with the mother. The fact that we were able to find out that they were already positive in the womb indicates a high probability that [the fetus] died as a result of coronavirus.”
The hospital did not say whether any other potential causes had been ruled out.
“I was as careful as I could be to avoid infection,” the mother told the Ynet news site. “It is important to get the coronavirus vaccine to save those dear to us. I am grateful to the medical teams who did their best and were supportive.”
The incident was the first of its kind in Israel, and a rare occurrence globally, Health Ministry officials told Ynet.
Brosh said there were only a few recorded cases in the world of a mother infecting an unborn child, with some cases reported in Brazil.
“We’ve had three stillbirths of women who were infected with the virus, but have not found the unborn babies infected before this case,” Brosh said.
“If the mother had been vaccinated in the first or second trimester, this could have been avoided,” Brosh said, adding that pregnant women have a high risk of coronavirus complications.
The Health Ministry has advised pregnant women to get the coronavirus vaccine after a number of women expecting a baby fell seriously ill, with several babies delivered prematurely via Caesarean section due to life-threatening risks to the mothers and the children.
Some of the women are suspected of having been infected with the so-called British strain of the coronavirus, a mutated strain that is believed to be more infectious and more deadly.
The United States Centers for Disease Control also said that pregnant women should be permitted to receive the vaccine, noting that they are at increased risk of severe disease or death from COVID-19.
“People who are pregnant and part of a group recommended to receive the COVID-19 vaccine may choose to be vaccinated,” the agency said in a statement.