Perinatal death is an increasingly important problem as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, but the mechanism of death has been unclear.
To evaluate the role of the placenta in causing stillbirth and neonatal death following maternal infection with COVID-19 and confirmed placental positivity for SARS-CoV-2.
Case-based retrospective clinico-pathological analysis by a multinational group of 44 perinatal specialists from 12 countries of placental and autopsy pathology findings from 64 stillborns and 4 neonatal deaths having placentas testing positive for SARS-CoV-2 following delivery to mothers with COVID-19.
All 68 placentas had increased fibrin deposition and villous trophoblast necrosis and 66 had chronic histiocytic intervillositis, the three findings constituting SARS-CoV-2 placentitis. Sixty-three placentas had massive perivillous fibrin deposition. Severe destructive placental disease from SARS-CoV-2 placentitis averaged 77.7% tissue involvement. Other findings included multiple intervillous thrombi (37%; 25/68) and chronic villitis (32%; 22/68). The majority (19, 63%) of the 30 autopsies revealed no significant fetal abnormalities except for intrauterine hypoxia and asphyxia. Among all 68 cases, SARS-CoV-2 was detected from a body specimen in 16 of 28 cases tested, most frequently from nasopharyngeal swabs. Four autopsied stillborns had SARS-CoV-2 identified in internal organs.
The pathology abnormalities composing SARS-CoV-2 placentitis cause widespread and severe placental destruction resulting in placental malperfusion and insufficiency. In these cases, intrauterine and perinatal death likely results directly from placental insufficiency and fetal hypoxic-ischemic injury. There was no evidence that SARS-CoV-2 involvement of the fetus had a role in causing these deaths.
College of American Pathologists: Placental Tissue Destruction and Insufficiency from COVID-19 Causes Stillbirth and Neonatal Death from Hypoxic-Ischemic Injury: A Study of 68 Cases with SARS-CoV-2 Placentitis from 12 Countries