Covid-19 during pregnancy and consequences on newborn’s eye health

A study published by JAMA Ophthalmology and conducted by the Federal University of São Paulo, Brazil, shows that Covid-19 infection does not affect eye development in the foetus. However, the vertical transmission of the virus from mother to foetus becomes a real possibility to consider.

Vertical transmission is a real possibility in viral diseases contracted during pregnancy and, in many cases, viral infections from mother to child can cause severe damage and eye malformations in newborns, especially to the retina.

For this reason it was important to assess if Covid-19 could cause eye damage in newborns.

The study carried out by the Department of Ophthalmology at the Federal University of São Paulo, Brazil, and published on JAMA Ophthalmology, entitled “Ocular Assessments of a Series of Newborns Gestationally Exposed to Maternal COVID-19 Infection” examined 165 newborns between April and November 2020 in three different hospitals in the city.

The maternal gestational age at the time of the COVID-19–positive test, which was performed by oro-nasopharyngeal swab and serology test, ranged from the first to the 40th gestational week.

Six newborns tested positive to the SARS-Cov-2 virus by PCR; one newborn tested positive within 18 days from birth (mother-newborn horizontal transmission after birth), and 5 newborns tested positive from their first day of life (vertical transmission during gestation).

None of the positive newborns presented ocular abnormalities related to Covid-19. An encouraging result, although further and more in-depth research is needed to support this data definitively.

However, the study has coincidentally demonstrated that vertical transmission occurred in 3% of newborns, an infrequent but not insignificant event, which especially happens when the mother is asymptomatic.

Considering the absence of a control group in the study, the reported results cannot be generalised, but vertical and non-vertical transmission of the SARS-COV-2 virus from mother to child is a real possibility that should be taken into account?