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Abdomen of a pregnant African woman

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New research is available about how COVID-19 affects unborn children. According to a study by the Archives of Pathology & Laboratory Medicine, the virus can destroy the placenta, which can lead to a stillbirth and asphyxiation.

“We have never seen this level of destruction from an infectious illness before,” Atlanta-based private perinatal pathologist Dr. David Schwartz told Today. “It rendered the placenta unfit to carry out its duties. These fetuses and newborns died from asphyxiation due to lack of oxygen…It’s not the fetus that is being attacked and destroyed by the virus. It’s the placenta.”

The cause has been called SARS-CoV-2 placentitis and it can happen over a course of two weeks. The researchers examined 68 deaths of babies who had unvaccinated mothers from 12 countries. All of their babies died within seven days of being born or were stillborn. When SARS-CoV-2 placentitis sets in, it causes the placenta to become inflamed, clotting in the placenta due to buildup of the protein fibrin and  the death of cells in the placenta’s protective cell layer.

Dr. Kjersti Aagaard, a professor of maternal-fetal medicine at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital, added that the fibrin buildup in the placenta does major damage and that “no fetus can survive that.”

Due to these findings, doctors are being encouraged to perform ultrasounds on pregnant women in their third trimester and explore if delivery is an option if they detect SARS-CoV-2 placentitis.

“Obstetricians see placental insufficiencies happening in their practice all the time. You can never reverse it but you can contemplate delivery,” Schwartz said. “If it’s medically feasible, you get the fetus out of there.”

Aagaard said one of the only ways to prevent this illness is to get vaccinated.

“These two studies side by side reinforce the notion that the single best decision that any pregnant person and their family can make at this moment in time is to get the COVID vaccine,” Aagaard said. “That is the best thing they can choose to do to improve the chance that they are going to have a healthy uncomplicated delivery.”

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