Study: Expectant Mothers Can Pass Common Cold Virus To Their Unborn Child

NEW ORLEANS — Here’s a reason pregnant women may want to carry around an extra bottle of hand sanitizer. For the first time ever, a team of researchers have proven that the common cold is capable of infecting cells derived from human placentas. This discovery, according to the research team at Tulane University, suggests that it may be possible for the cold virus to pass from mother to unborn child.

“This is the first evidence that a common cold virus can infect the human placenta,” explains study leader Dr. Giovanni Piedimonte in a release. “It supports our theory that when a woman develops a cold during pregnancy, the virus causing the maternal infection can spread to the fetus and cause a pulmonary infection even before birth.”

The placenta passes along food and nutrients from mother to developing fetus, all while filtering out any harmful pathogens. While medical science has long believed that the placenta was essentially impenetrable to harmful substances, more recent research has illustrated that it is indeed possible for certain viruses, such as Zika, to slip by and make contact with the fetus.

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So, in order to investigate if the common cold virus is capable of such a feat, researchers used donated placentas and isolated three major placenta cell types: cytotrophoblast, stroma fibroblasts, and Hofbauer cells. Then, each of these groups were exposed, in vitro, to the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which causes the common cold.

The cytotrophoblast cells were generally effective at limiting the virus’ replication, but the other two cell groupings were found to be significantly susceptible to the virus.

For instance, the Hofbauer cells allowed the cold virus to replicate itself within their cell walls. Since Hofbauer cells routinely travel throughout the placenta, the study’s authors hypothesize they could act as a Trojan horse of sorts, allowing the cold virus easy access to the fetus.

“These cells don’t die when they’re infected by the virus, which is the problem,” Piedimonte adds. “When they move into the fetus, they are like bombs packed with virus. They don’t disseminate the virus around by exploding, which is the typical way, but rather transfer the virus through intercellular channels.”

The research team further theorize that RSV may attack lung tissue within developing fetuses, which could make affected children predisposed to developing asthma.

The study is published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE.

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