The coronavirus disease (Covid-19) has adversely affected people's wellbeing, social life and economic status.
On the health front, most people are aware of its symptoms, how the virus spreads and the severe complications that the disease can cause in older people as well as individuals with underlying conditions like diabetes or heart problems.
These are some of the visible impacts of the disease. But there's still so much more that remains unknown about the novel condition.
As such, scientists are working round the clock to conduct research and gain insights into Covid-19, which has affected over a million people and caused tens of thousands of deaths globally.
Such insights will enable nations to make evidence based decisions on how to effectively mitigate the effects of Covid-19, prevent infections or eliminate the disease altogether.
In the area of maternal health, the jury is still out on whether infected mothers can pass the disease to their newborns. This has been an area of concern for most women, keen to protect their babies from harm.
On this issue, there appears to be light at the end of the tunnel.
According to a new study published in the Frontiers in Paediatrics Journal, babies of women with the coronavirus disease could be protected from the ailment.
The study, which is the second to come out of China, found that mothers infected with Covid-19 during pregnancy did not infect their babies.
During the research period, Chinese scientists assessed the health of newborns delivered by four infected mothers infected at Union Hospital in Wuhan, which was the epicentre of the coronavirus disease in China.
Three of the mothers delivered through C-section whereas one mother adopted vaginal birth.
Immediately after birth, all the babies were separated from their mothers and isolated in neonatal intensive units where they were fed formula milk.
At the end of the study, the results showed that none of the infants developed any serious symptoms associated with Covid-19 such as fever, cough or diarrhoea.
Three of the four babies tested negative for the coronavirus disease following a throat swab, while the mother of the fourth child declined to offer consent for the test.
One of the babies experienced a minor breathing issue for three days that was treated by non-invasive mechanical ventilation.
Out of the four children, two babies - including the one with the respiratory problem- developed body rashes that eventually disappeared on their own.
“It's impossible to conclude whether there's a connection between these other medical issues and Covid-19. We are not sure the rash was due to the mother's infection,” said Dr Yalan Liu, a co-author of the study at Huazhong University of Science and Technology based in China. She also works in the Department of Paediatric at Union Hospital.
Nevertheless, the researchers note that all four infants remain healthy, and their mothers also fully recovered.
"To avoid infection transmission, our obstetricians think that C-section may be safer. In the study, only one pregnant mother adopted vaginal delivery because of the onset of the labour process and her baby was normal. So maybe vaginal delivery is okay. But this needs further research," Liu said.
The results of this new study are in line with a previous one published in The Lancet journal in February 2020, which found that the Coronavirus disease might not spread during pregnancy.
During the research, Chinese health professionals observed nine women aged between 26 and 40 years who were infected with Covid-19.
All of them had contracted pneumonia as a result of the infection and were in their last trimester of pregnancy. They eventually gave birth through C-section.
Numerous tests performed on the newborns found no sign of Covid-19 infection.
The research team, led by Professor Zhang Yuanzhen of Zhongnan Hospital at Wuhan University in China, however noted that future follow-up of the women and children in the study will be necessary to determine their long-term safety and health.
"It is important to note that many important clinical details of this case are missing. For this reason, we cannot conclude from this one case whether infection in the womb is possible. Nonetheless, we should continue to pay special attentions to babies born to mothers with Covid-19 pneumonia to help prevent infections in this group."
Professor Huixia Yang, a co-author of the Lancet study from Peking University First Hospital in China, noted that existing studies into the effects of Covid-19 apply to the general population. As such, there is limited information about the virus in pregnant women.
He stated that a deeper understanding of the impact of the disease on expectant women is important since they are particularly vulnerable to respiratory infections due to their low immunity caused by physical and psychological changes associated with pregnancy.
“Although in our study no patients developed severe pneumonia or died of their infection, we need to continue to study the virus to understand the effects in a larger group of pregnant women,” Yang noted.