Breast milk not likely to transmit COVID-19 virus say researchers  

Los Angeles: Breast milk is not likely to transmit COVID-19, according to a study. The study found that the novel coronavirus was unable to replicate and cause infection in the breastfed infants. The study was published Wednesday in the journal JAMA. It 64 samples of breast milk collected by a bio-repository from 18 women across the US. They were all infected with severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).

One sample tested positive for viral RNA. However, subsequent tests found that the virus was unable to replicate. Hence breastfed infants do not have any chance of contracting the disease, the researchers said.

“Detection of viral RNA does not equate to infection. It has to grow and multiply in order to be infectious. We did not find that in any of our samples,” said Christina Chambers. She is the co-principal investigator of the study. She is also a professor at the University of California (UC) San Diego School of Medicine. “Our findings suggest breast milk itself is not likely a source of infection for the infant,” Chambers added.

The current recommendations to prevent transmission while breastfeeding are hand hygiene. Also sterilising pumping equipment after each use is a must.

“In the absence of data, some women infected with SARS-CoV-2 have chosen to just not breastfeed at all,” said Grace Aldrovandi from UC. “We hope our results and future studies will give women the reassurance needed for them to breastfeed. Human milk provides invaluable benefits to mom and baby,” Aldrovandi added.

Early breastfeeding is associated with a reduced risk of sudden infant death syndrome and obesity in children. Breast milk also improves immune health and performance on intelligence tests, the researchers said.

In mothers, breastfeeding has been associated with lower risks for breast and ovarian cancer. Breastfeeding also diminishes the risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, they informed.

The researchers also mimicked conditions of the Holder pasteurisation process commonly used in human donor milk banks. They did so by adding SARS-CoV-2 to breast milk samples from two different donors who were not infected. The samples were heated to 62.5 degrees Celsius for 30 minutes and then cooled to four degrees Celsius. Following pasteurisation, infectious virus was not detected in either sample.

“This is a very positive finding for donor milk, which so many infants, especially those born premature, rely on,” said Chambers. “Our findings fill in some important gaps, but more studies are needed with larger sample sizes to confirm these findings,” she added.