New research published in the journal Archives of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine revealed that COVID-19 can destroy the placenta and cause stillbirth in unvaccinated pregnant women. The viral infection deprives the placenta of oxygen and ultimately kills the fetus by asphyxiation, said Dr. David Schwartz, a perinatal pathologist.
“We have never seen this level of destruction from an infectious illness before,” he said. “It rendered the placenta unfit to carry out its duties. These fetuses and newborns died from asphyxiation due to a lack of oxygen. It’s almost the exact opposite of what we see in other infectious diseases like Zika, rubella, or syphilis. It’s not the fetus that is being attacked and destroyed by the virus. It’s the placenta.”
Leading the study, Schwartz said 68 perinatal deaths in 12 countries were the basis for the research. The mothers of the babies had been unvaccinated and got infected with COVID-19 during pregnancy. All the 68 babies were born dead or died within seven days of birth. The researchers analyzed the 68 placentas and even carried out autopsies on 30 babies. None of the dead babies had any congenital abnormality.
But the team of researchers found that their placentas had three major problems. The placentas were inflamed; the cells in the protective layer of the organ were dead; and there was a buildup of fibrin, a protein that causes clotting of blood in the organ.
The researchers found that many of the placentas were damaged beyond reason, and this made the transportation of oxygen and other important nutrients to the babies impossible. In many cases, the placentas were even dead and this caused a stillbirth. The extent of coronavirus damage on the placentas made it impossible for any fetus to survive.
Dr. Ellie Ragsdale, director of fetal intervention at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center, said most of the women who participated in the study did not even have significant COVID-19 symptoms. And the only observable thing about their infection is the internal damage to the placentas of their growing babies. This situation hinders fetuses from moving normally, and they die within a few weeks if the pregnancy is not lost before then.
“Obstetricians see placental insufficiencies happening in their practice all the time,” Schwartz advised. “You can never reverse it, but you can contemplate delivery. If it’s medically feasible, you get the fetus out of there.”
He advised obstetricians to carry out third-trimester scans on pregnant women who are infected with coronavirus to determine if their babies are safe or if they need to be evacuated to safety to protect them against certain deaths. He also warned that pregnant women should get vaccinated since this is the surest way to protect them and their babies against loss.