Characterization of SARS-CoV-2 RNA, Antibodies, and Neutralizing Capacity in Milk Produced by Women with COVID-19.

Published on Feb 9, 2021in Mbio6.784
· DOI :10.1128/MBIO.03192-20
Ryan M. Pace10
Estimated H-index: 10
(UIdaho: University of Idaho),
Janet E. Williams21
Estimated H-index: 21
(UIdaho: University of Idaho)
+ 18 AuthorsMichelle K. McGuire34
Estimated H-index: 34
(UIdaho: University of Idaho)
ABSTRACT Whether mother-to-infant SARS-CoV-2 transmission can occur during breastfeeding and, if so, whether the benefits of breastfeeding outweigh this risk during maternal COVID-19 illness remain important questions. Using RT-qPCR, we did not detect SARS-CoV-2 RNA in any milk sample (n = 37) collected from 18 women following COVID-19 diagnosis. Although we detected evidence of viral RNA on 8 out of 70 breast skin swabs, only one was considered a conclusive positive result. In contrast, 76% of the milk samples collected from women with COVID-19 contained SARS-CoV-2-specific IgA, and 80% had SARS-CoV-2-specific IgG. In addition, 62% of the milk samples were able to neutralize SARS-CoV-2 infectivity in vitro, whereas milk samples collected prior to the COVID-19 pandemic were unable to do so. Taken together, our data do not support mother-to-infant transmission of SARS-CoV-2 via milk. Importantly, milk produced by infected mothers is a beneficial source of anti-SARS-CoV-2 IgA and IgG and neutralizes SARS-CoV-2 activity. These results support recommendations to continue breastfeeding during mild-to-moderate maternal COVID-19 illness. IMPORTANCE Results from prior studies assaying human milk for the presence of SARS-CoV-2, the causative virus of COVID-19, have suggested milk may act as a potential vehicle for mother-to-child transmission. Most previous studies are limited because they followed only a few participants, were cross-sectional, and/or failed to report how milk was collected and/or analyzed. As such, considerable uncertainty remains regarding whether human milk is capable of transmitting SARS-CoV-2 from mother to child. Here, we report that repeated milk samples collected from 18 women following COVID-19 diagnosis did not contain SARS-CoV-2 RNA; however, risk of transmission via breast skin should be further evaluated. Importantly, we found that milk produced by infected mothers is a source of anti-SARS-CoV-2 IgA and IgG and neutralizes SARS-CoV-2 activity. These results support recommendations to continue breastfeeding during mild-to-moderate maternal COVID-19 illness as milk likely provides specific immunologic benefits to infants.
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