Covid during pregnancy linked to brain disorders in infant boys

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Male babies born to mothers with SARS-CoV-2 infection during pregnancy were more likely to be diagnosed with neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism spectrum disorder in the first 12 months after delivery, according to a study.

The findings, published in JAMA Network Open, showed that Covid positivity was associated with a nearly two-fold higher odds of a neurodevelopmental diagnosis at 12 months of age among male children.

At 18 months, the effects were more modest in males, with maternal SARS-CoV-2 positivity linked to a 42 per cent higher odds of a neurodevelopmental diagnosis at this age.

However, the risk was not seen in girls, said researchers from the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) in the US.

"The neurodevelopmental risk associated with maternal SARS-CoV-2 infection was disproportionately high in male infants, consistent with the known increased vulnerability of males in the face of prenatal adverse exposures," said Andrea Edlow, Associate Professor and a Maternal-Foetal Medicine specialist at MGH.

Previous studies have found associations between other infections during pregnancy and increased risk of neurodevelopmental disorders in children, such as autism spectrum disorder, but it was unclear if such a link exists with SARS-CoV-2 infection during pregnancy.

For the study, the team examined electronic health records for 18,355 live births during the Covid pandemic, including 883 to individuals with SARS-CoV-2 positivity during pregnancy.

Of the 883 SARS-CoV-2-exposed children, 26 received a neurodevelopmental diagnosis during the first 12 months of life. Among the unexposed children, 317 received such a diagnosis.

Too few of the mothers were vaccinated to determine whether vaccination changed risk, said the researchers stressing the need for further studies to explain the risk.