Infant infections add troubling new element to coronavirus outbreak

China’s state-operated CCTV quoted hospital officials as saying one child may have been infected in the womb. The mother tested positive for the virus prior to delivery. Experts could not confirm the news and say it would be an extremely rare occurence.

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A customer wears face mask as she picks up a canned food from a nearly empty shelf in a grocery store in Hong Kong, China.

A customer wears face mask as she picks up a canned food from a nearly empty shelf in a grocery store in Hong Kong, China.


Reports of infants infected with thedeadly new coronavirusis a troubling new element confrontingthe global medical community combating theoutbreak, experts say.

Chinese media reported that two infantshave tested positive for the virus. One of the children, just 30 hours old, is the youngest known case.China’s state-operated CCTV quoted hospital officials as saying the child may have been infected in the womb.

Health officials said last night that the number of deaths in China has broken the 500 barrier, increasing to 564 fatalities. Many are people 60 and over and who had some type of previous illness or coronary problem.

Across the globe, there have been 27,636 confirmed cases of coronavirus. The fatality rate for the infections is about 2percent. That compares to 9.6 percent for the SARS virus that spread in 2002 and 2003.

The World Health Organization said it had heard the report of “vertical transmission” but could not confirm it. Neither could Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.

“It would be pretty unusual,” Messonnier said at a news conference Wednesday.

William Haseltine, a former Harvard Medical School professor who recently returned from the central Chinese city of Wuhan after chairing aU.S.-China Health Summit, told USA TODAY he had never heard of a coronavirus infection from the womb.

”However the infant is infected, it is certainly worrisome,” Haseltine said. “The lungs in infants that young are not fully formed, putting them at greater risk than an adult.”

Ogbonnaya Omenka, an assistant professor and public health specialist at Butler University’s College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, said such transmission is so rare it is impossible to assess likely outcomes in such cases. He said other infection possibilities include the health care personnel involved in the deliveryandthe mother post-delivery, since the mother tested positive for the virus before giving birth.

“We know that pregnant women suffer worse outcomes than the general population in the event of an epidemic,” he said. “In this infant coronavirus case, it needs to be determined whether the transmission occurred while the baby was in the womb. If it is confirmed, then it would definitely introduce the need for additional clinical and public health response strategy.”

Also Wednesday, two chartered flights carrying about 350Americans fleeing the coronavirus outbreak landed at Travis Air Force Base in Northern California. Messonnier said one of the planes continued to Miramar Marine Corps Air Station in San Diego.

The flights come after a chartered flight a week ago evacuated U.S. Consulate workers and scores of Americans living in Wuhan, the center of the outbreak that has been in lockdown for almost two weeks.

The latest evacuation plane to land at Travis carried 178 passengers, most of them Americans, who were immediately quarantined at the baseunder orders fromthe Department Health and Human Service.

CDC officials said one child aboard the plane had a fever and was taken to a local facility for observation and evaluation, but officials cautioned there was no immediate sign that coronavirus was involved.

The evacuees will be confined to housing at the base for 14 days, the outer limit of the coronavirus incubation period. The passengers ranged in age from 2 to 65 years.

They were whisked through passport control and taken by bus to the base where they were given one room per family andwere asked to maintain “social distancing” from other families of six feet during the two weeks.

Messonnier said two more flights are scheduled Thursday, one landing in San Antonio, Texas, and one in Omaha, Nebraska. All the passengers are being screened for the virus and face 14-day quarantines.

The Trump administration declared a public health emergency Jan. 31barring entry of foreign nationals coming from China and ordering14-day quarantines for travelers from China’s Hubeiprovince.The State Department also issued a “do not travel” advisory for China.

Thedeath toll from the virusrose Wednesday to almost 500, all but two of the deaths in China. The number of virus cases rose almost 25,000, including more than 200 outside mainland China and 12in the U.S.

In Geneva, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesusunveiled a $675 million preparedness and response plan to protect nations with weak health systems.

“My biggest worry is that there are countries today who do not have the systems in place to detect people who have contracted with the virus, even if it were to emerge,” Tedros said. “Urgent support is needed to bolster weak health systems to detect, diagnose and care for people with the virusto prevent further human to human transmission and protect health workers.”


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