Premature baby tests negative in COVID-related death investigation

Updated: Apr. 13, 2020 at 12:00 PM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - A COVID-19 swab taken from a premature baby that died after her mother was hospitalized has tested negative for the virus, East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner Dr. Beau Clark said on Monday, April 13.

Clark says a pregnant mother was admitted to a Baton Rouge hospital on April 1 with COVID-related symptoms, including shortness of breath and fever. She was placed on a ventilator and tested positive for COVID-19. The infant’s negative sample confirms the virus did not transmit vertically, or directly from mother to baby. Certain viruses, like HIV, can be transmitted vertically during the period immediately before and after birth.

The mother went into pre-term labor and delivered her daughter prematurely at 22 weeks. The baby did not survive, Clark says.

In a live-streamed update, Clark says that “outside the confines of this particular case” babies born between 21 and 25 weeks have less than a 5% chance of survival.

“In normal circumstances, to be born that young, you’ll certainly have an uphill battle with survival,” he says. “However, that’s not to say that it’s not possible. It is possible.”

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“However, this is still considered a covid-related death,” Clark clarified. “Because of the intimate relationship between the mother and her child. As the baby is in the womb, it is relying one hundred percent on the mother to provide the things it needs to sustain its life.”

One of those most important things, Clark continued, is oxygen. As air is inhaled by the mother, oxygen travels through her lungs and her circulatory system before providing oxygen to the infant.

“It’s because of that relationship in this circumstance why this is considered a covid-related death,” he said. “The immediate cause of death was extreme prematurity. But you have to ask yourself, ‘why was there extreme prematurity?’”

Clark says the mother delivered the baby prematurely because she was in “a hypoxic state related to being covid-positive.” COVID-19 attacks the respiratory system which causes hypoxia due to a lack of oxygen. The lungs have to work harder to obtain oxygen and pass it on to the baby.

“Had the mother not had the symptoms and been on a ventilator, she may not have gone into pre-term labor,” he said during a Facebook live on April 6.

“It’s that sequence of events that makes this a covid-related death,” Clark said.

The CDC has yet to determine if COVID-19 can be transmitted vertically.

While this is the first reported case like this in Louisiana, Clark says there are other similar cases across the country.

“We should all pay attention to the quarantine, the stay at home order, and social distancing," Clark said. “We can all be affected by this."

He says social distancing becomes “very, very important” when caring for your newborn or a pregnant mother.

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