What Is the Main Idea?

COVID-19 is having an impact on infants’ microbiota, and this may affect them in their later lives. Published in the International Archives of Allergy and Immunology, the open access review “The Effect of COVID-19 Pandemic on the Infants’ Microbiota and the Probability of Development of Allergic and Autoimmune Diseases” gives details about the increased risk of allergic and autoimmune diseases in children born during the pandemic.

What Else Can You Learn?

This post includes a reminder of the impact of COVID-19 on the individual as a disease and on our behaviors and lifestyles as a pandemic. This context is important to understand the impact on infant microbiota. The post also gives a brief explanation of the composition and importance of microbiota.

COVID-19 Affects Humans in Various Ways

“How will COVID-19 affect my child?” It’s only natural that a parent would ask this about their child, especially if that child is too young for vaccination. COVID-19 is still a global concern and is likely to remain one for some time, with the potential for more variants, reinfection, and further surges not ruled out.

SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is primarily transmitted via respiratory routes. Its highest levels are detected in the lungs and upper respiratory system, but it can spread to other organs, including the heart, kidneys, liver, and brain. Gastrointestinal symptoms are also common and can be persistent.

Although the risk of severe illness from COVID-19 seems to be low in children (unless they have underlying health conditions), given the possibility of SARS-CoV-2 spreading to other organs, it’s important for doctors and parents to have an awareness of how the virus might affect children’s development.

However, it’s also important to consider the effect of the pandemic itself on humans — and again, parents and doctors should be especially concerned when it comes to children. The pandemic has changed the way we live our daily lives, and researchers have studied how this has impacted our psychology, physical health, and development.

The open access review “The Effect of COVID-19 Pandemic on the Infants’ Microbiota and the Probability of Development of Allergic and Autoimmune Diseases” focuses on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the composition of the body’s microbiota.

What Is the Microbiota and How Does COVID-19 Affect It?

The human microbiota consists of trillions of symbiotic microbes (bacteria, fungi, viruses, protists, and archaea) living in and on the human body. The majority are found in the gut, where they play a role in protecting the intestine against colonization by other microorganisms. The gut microbiota is proven to play an essential role in shaping the development of immunity, and it is critical that its development begins in early childhood. Exposure to environmental microbial species and nonharmful symbiotic and commensal organisms should occur during pregnancy, childbirth, and infancy. Factors that are relevant include the levels of social interactions, use of detergents and disinfectants in the child’s environment, exposure to pets, and use of antibiotics.

As the review points out, the lifestyle changes caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have included decreased social interactions; an increased use of detergents, disinfectants, and antibiotics; changes in exposure to pets; and changes in infant feeding patterns. All these behavioral changes have an impact on the infant’s microbiota, and this has a knock-on effect on the immune system.

What Is the Significance of the Impact of COVID-19 on Breastfeeding?

One example of this pertains to breastfeeding patterns. Based on the available evidence, SARS-CoV-2 cannot be transmitted through breast milk. It is recommended that breastfeeding continues, even when the mother has tested positive for COVID-19. Understandably, many choose to be more cautious and stop feeding for the weeks after the positive test. This can affect the microbiota of the child. Even if the COVID-19-positive mother continues breastfeeding, medical advice is that they should use a mask, disinfect their hands, and limit the time holding the baby. This also has an impact, as the child has a change in exposure levels during this critical developmental period.

Breastfeeding and exposure to the mother during breastfeeding reduces the risks of: diseases caused by immune system deficiencies; type 1 diabetes; later-life type 2 diabetes; rheumatoid arthritis; multiple sclerosis; and celiac disease.

What Else Does the Review Cover?

This is just one example of how a change in behaviors during the pandemic can affect the development of a child’s microbiota. The review “The Effect of COVID-19 Pandemic on the Infants’ Microbiota and the Probability of Development of Allergic and Autoimmune Diseases” also gives information on how the mode of delivery of the baby (vaginal birth or cesarean section), use of detergents, antibiotic treatment, and contact with pets have potentially affected the microbiota of infants.

What Is the Conclusion?

It is essential for doctors and parents to be aware of the potential impact of altered microbiota formation. It can provide a greater awareness in the future when children have symptoms of autoimmune diseases and other conditions. This can accelerate diagnostics and ensure that the child gets the support they need sooner. It could also inform current practices regarding exposure to animals, breastfeeding, and exposure to environmental bacterial. Finally, it is a reminder to get older children and family members vaccinated against COVID-19 as soon as possible so that the whole family can return to behaviors that ensure exposure to the necessary environmental microbes.

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