When Did COVID-19 Emerge in Minnesota? An Analysis of Newborn Saliva Swabs Spanning 11/2019 through 3/2022

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The COVID-19 pandemic has not spared infants and children. In early April 2020, researchers observed documented pediatric infections, including in infants as young as four weeks of age in the Twin Cities.

Led by Mark R. Schleiss, MD, professor, Department of Pediatrics, this study will determine if COVID-19 RNA can be detected in newborn saliva swabs, which would reflect potential perinatal transmission in colonized women. Previous research has shown that COVID-19 RNA is present in stool samples as well as aerosolized droplets. It is also increasingly recognized that asymptomatic individuals (including pregnant patients) shed virus and infect others even though they don't know that they are contagious. However, these potential routes of transmission have not been examined in maternal-fetal research, although they have significant implications for obstetrical monitoring and management.

The study will also examine the timing of emergence of COVID-19.

“We hypothesize that COVID-19 was circulating in the Twin Cities in late 2019,” said Schleiss. “Our collection of purified nucleic acids from saliva swabs of 20,000 Minnesota newborns, dating back to 2017, is a highly unique resource and provides one of the only opportunities to retrospectively address the pre-pandemic prevalence and emergence of COVID-19. We hypothesize that PCR testing of infant mouth swabs can detect asymptomatic infant colonization, and give us clues about the timing and emergence of SARS-CoV-2 infection in Minnesota.”

This project is supported by the UMN Campus Public Health Officer's Rapid Response Research Grants program, which support University of Minnesota faculty to catalyze and energize small-scale research projects designed to address and mitigate the COVID-19 virus and its associated risks.