Researchers in 12 countries, including the United States, analyzed placental and autopsy tissue from 64 stillbirths and four newborns who died shortly after birth. The cases all involved unvaccinated women who had COVID-19 during their pregnancy.
The study bolsters evidence from small case reports and it confirms that placenta damage rather than an infection of the fetus is the likely cause of many COVID-19-related stillbirths, said Dr. Jeffery Goldstein, a pathologist at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine.
Studies show that in the case of stillbirths, it was the placenta that was infected and extensively destroyed.
What is the placenta and how does it work?
The placenta is an organ that forms and attaches to the womb during pregnancy. It connects with the umbilical cord, providing oxygen and nourishment from the mother’s bloodstream.
The virus likely reached the placenta through the bloodstream, attaching to susceptible cells and causing protein deposits and an unusual form of inflammation that blocked blood flow and oxygen. That in turn led to placenta tissue death and suffocation, the researchers said.
The study was done before highly infectious variant omicron emerged.