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SARS-CoV-2 and the role of vertical transmission from infected pregnant women to their fetuses: systematic review.

By Annette Pluddemann, Elizabeth A Spencer, Carl Heneghan, Jon Brassey, Igho J Onakpoya, Cecilia Rosca, David H. Evans, John M. Conly, Tom Jefferson

Posted 05 Jul 2021
medRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2021.06.30.21259750

Background Vertical transmission of SARS-CoV-2 has been reported but does not appear to be common. This study aims to systematically review the evidence for vertical transmission of SARS-CoV-2. Methods This review is part of an Open Evidence Review on the transmission dynamics of SARS-CoV-2 and the role of intrauterine mother to fetus transmission. Literature searches were performed in the WHO Covid-19 Database, LitCovid, medRxiv, and Google Scholar for SARS-CoV-2 using keywords and associated synonyms, search date up to 20 December 2020, no language restrictions. Results We included 106 studies assessing vertical transmission of SARS-CoV-2 from pregnant women to their neonates: these studies comprised 40 reviews (21 fulfilled systematic review methodology, including risk of bias assessment of included studies) and 66 primary studies including 32 case reports (of up to two cases) and 34 prospective and retrospective cohort studies, prospective and retrospective case series, observational studies (including asymptomatic screening), database studies and a quality improvement project. Almost all were conducted in a hospital setting. The 32 case reports were considered to be at high risk of bias, due to the study design; across the 34 remaining primary studies, risk of bias was low to moderate. Sixteen case reports examined vertical transmission, which was not related to maternal symptomatology. For the cohort and case series studies, the percentage of positive neonates ranged from 0% to 22% across the studies. Twenty studies reported no positive vertical transmission. Three studies that reported the highest positivity rates of 11%, 15% and 22% had specifically selected neonates with a positive test (within up to 35 days) within the study population and were therefore more selective populations. Across the cohort and case series studies there were 65/2391 (2.7%) neonates born to mothers with a diagnosis of COVID-19 tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 within 24 hours of birth. No evidence correlated maternal symptomatology to vertical transmission. Mode of delivery did not correlate with rates of vertical transmission. Of 25 studies, 7 identified SARS-CoV-2 in placental tissue; some of these did not demonstrate vertical transmission to the neonate. No study reported the results of viral culture to detect SARS-CoV-2. Conclusions The results of these studies indicate that vertical transmission is possible, but is not frequent, and factors that influence when vertical transmission occurs are unknown. Further studies using standardised methods to establish viral infection are needed to establish vertical transmission rates and to assess clinical and other conditions affecting transmission.

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