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Children exposed to SARS-CoV-2 in womb or as newborns may face increased social and respiratory problems

Press release issued: 23 May 2024

Children who were exposed to SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) while in the womb or as newborn babies may face greater difficulties with social skills and have more respiratory symptoms than non-exposed children, according to a new University of Bristol-led study published in eClinicalMedicine.

Previous research suggests that infants exposed to SARS-CoV-2 infection during pregnancy may have poorer lung growth and delayed early development before 12 months of age, particularly when compared with those born before the COVID-19 pandemic. However, until now, longer-term outcomes of children born during the COVID-19 pandemic, with and without exposure to SARS-CoV-2 during pregnancy or in the newborn period, remained unclear.

In this new study, in collaboration with the University of Oxford, Imperial College London and the University of Leicester, researchers sought to understand whether SARS-CoV-2 exposure during pregnancy impacted the longer-term development and breathing of babies, and whether they suffered more health problems than children who were not exposed.

The team found that overall development at two years of age did not differ between the children who were exposed and not-exposed to SARS-CoV-2. However, on a group level, the exposed cohort were at greater risk of slightly delayed social-emotional development.

Importantly, children exposed to the virus in the perinatal period also had more problems with breathing and used health care services more, including more inpatient, outpatient and GP attendances by two years of age when compared with the non-exposed cohort.

Read the full University of Bristol news story

Paper: ‘Association of antenatal or neonatal SARS-COV-2 exposure with developmental and respiratory outcomes, and healthcare usage in early childhood: a national prospective cohort study’ by Ela Chakkarapani et al. in eClinicalMedicine [open access].

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