By Abigail Klein Leichman

Several international studies have found the risk of fetal death during late pregnancy doubles when the mother is sick with COVID-19.

Now the reason for this disturbing phenomenon is known: Sometimes the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus severely damages the placenta as it passes from mother to baby.

The study, led by Dr. Eran Barzilay, head of the Obstetric and Gynecological Ultrasound Unit at Samson Assuta University Hospital in Ashdod, was published in the International Journal of Gynecology & Obstetrics.

“SARS-CoV-2 vertical transmission with confirmed placental infection, confirmed by whole genome sequencing of the virus, may be a contributing factor to fetal demise,” states the paper coauthored by Barzilay and 13 colleagues.

Barzilay said four Assuta patients experienced late pregnancy loss at the same time as they were diagnosed with the virus. None of the four was vaccinated against COVID-19.

The Assuta team’s pathological tests found the virus had infected the placenta and the fetus in all four cases.

“We can say that infection did cause fetal death and that the death was caused directly by the placenta,” Barzilay said, adding that his team had “never seen this kind of damage to the placenta from a virus. It seems to be something specific to corona.”

“Even if the mother had very mild disease and mild symptoms and her PCR test was positive but showed low levels of viral infection, the placenta [had] a high viral load,” said Barzilay.

However, the placenta does not become infected in every pregnant woman with COVID-19. The risk seems to be greater in the third trimester.

Encouraging development

A new drug being tested shows a survival rate of 94 percent (47 of 50) of the severe COVID-19 patients treated. The drug product MesenCure is in a Phase II, multicenter clinical trial, Israel’s Bonus BioGroup said.

Study results, soon to be published, show MesenCure treatment reduced study participants’ hospitalization period by about half compared to a control group. All these patients had life-threatening pneumonia and respiratory distress caused by Covid-19.

The data shows that MesenCure treatment reduced mortality by about 70 percent compared with the control group. Only two of the first 30 severe COVID-19 patients treated with MesenCure died due to COVID-19 or its complications, while 14 of 60 similar patients in the control group died.

MesenCure treatment shortened the hospitalization period of severe COVID-19 patients by eight days on average, a reduction of 45 percent relative to the control group.

The experimental group included women and men aged 41.4 to 77.4. About 77 percent of the severe COVID-19 patients treated in three hospitals with MesenCure had one or more risk factors for poor prognosis: hypertension, hyperlipidemia, obesity and Type 2 diabetes. Most were treated during the fourth COVID-19 wave in Israel, dominated by the Delta strain.

Produced in association with Israel21C.

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