KEY POINTS

  • The baby of a pregnant woman who went to hospital feeling ill had died in her womb
  • It is the second case of a stillborn baby testing positive for COVID-19 in Israel
  • Transmission of COVID-19 from mother to the baby in her womb is said to be "unusual" 

Israel has now reported two instances of a stillborn baby testing positive for the coronavirus.

Last week, a woman in the 36th week of pregnancy lost her baby due to stillbirth at Meir Hospital in Kfar Saba. She reportedly went to the hospital because she was feeling ill, The Times of Israel reported. The Jerusalem Post also noted that the woman had noticed that the fetal movements stopped.

Unfortunately, doctors found that the baby had died in the womb. Laboratory tests also confirmed that both the mother and her baby had COVID-19.

This is the second report of such an instance in Israel. The case is reminiscent of a recent one earlier in February, when a 29-year-old woman also gave birth to a stillborn baby, that time at Samson Assuta Ashdod University Hospital.

In that case, both mother and child also tested positive for the virus, with the baby likely contracting it from the mother's placenta. At the time, the hospital noted a "high probability" that the child had died from COVID-19 complications.

Even if the cases appear similar, the hospital in the second case has so far not linked the child's death to COVID-19, although it suspects that there might be a connection.

'Very Unusual' Occurrence

Obstetrician and gynecologist Prof. Arnon Wiznitzer of the Rabin Medical Center-Beilinson Campus in Petah Tikva told The Jerusalem Post that the situation wherein a fetus contracts the virus from the mother's placenta is "very unusual."

"To date, in only between 1% and 3% of cases have a pregnant mother directly passed on the virus to her baby," the outlet said.

Still, Wiznitzer noted that the cases may be an argument for pregnant women to get vaccinated. In the more recent case, for instance, the mother was not vaccinated.

Israel's Health Ministry has advised pregnant women to get vaccinated after several women who fell seriously ill with COVID-19 had to deliver their babies prematurely via Caesarean section, The Times of Israel reported.

In the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has also noted the increased risk for pregnant women with COVID-19 to develop a severe illness and experience "adverse pregnancy outcomes" such as a preterm birth compared to pregnant women who don't have COVID-19.

"People who are pregnant and part of a group recommended to receive COVID-19 vaccine, such as healthcare personnel, may choose to be vaccinated," the CDC said, but also noted that there is still "limited data" on the safety of the vaccines when administered during pregnancy. 

COVID-19's Stillbirth Toll

"There is still limited information about whether COVID-19 in particular is associated with pregnancy loss, miscarriage or stillbirth," Jeanne Sheffield, MD, maternal-fetal medicine expert at Johns Hopkins, said. "But we do know that high fevers in pregnancy, especially in the first trimester, can raise the risk of birth defects. That is why we encourage our patients to protect themselves from any illness that causes fever, including the flu."

Apart from the direct effects of COVID-19 on pregnant women who contract the disease, UNICEF has also detailed how COVID-19 could add to the world's stillbirth numbers.

As the organization explained, most of stillbirths happen because of factors such as poor health services and the lack of midwives' training. With the pandemic response significantly impacting healthcare in low- and middle-income countries, there could be close to 200,000 additional stillbirths.

"Losing a child at birth or during pregnancy is a devastating tragedy for a family, one that is often endured quietly, yet all too frequently, around the world," UNICEF executive director Henrietta Fore said.

Baby Pictured: Representative image of a baby's hand. Photo: Pixabay