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U of I researchers testing women's milk for coronavirus

Posted at 5:18 PM, May 04, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-04 23:39:57-04

MOSCOW — Two University of Idaho scientists are trying to find the answers to this question, "can women transfer COVID-19 to their baby when breastfeeding?"

Other viruses like HIV are highly transmittable through a mother's milk, but this has not been tested with the coronavirus.

"The last thing we want to tell women is not to breastfeed, but on the other hand, we don't know if the virus is there," said U of I scientist, Michelle McGuire.

With a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, U of I is partnering with the University of Rochester to test this question. But, the researchers need help from COVID-19 patients to be donors of breastmilk and help the study move forward.

"We overnight ship them all the supplies, and walk them through collecting the milk," said McGuire. "When they're done, we instruct them on how to pack up the milk, and it will be picked up at their house and then shipped to us overnight."

A portion of the milk will go to their partners in the study, the University of Rochester, and a lab at U of I to be tested.

"We are hoping the first week of June we'll have 20 to 30 women enrolled and milk in the lab so we can analyze it," said McGuire.

The team is hoping to have over 50 women studied by July to report back to the CDC and the World Health Organization with conclusive findings.

"We desperately want to answer these questions before a second wave hits and before it hits Africa," said McGuire.

The team will also test antibodies in the milk to see if they can protect babies from COVID-19.

"The simple goal of all of our research is how to feed infants the best," said U of I scientist, Mark McGuire.

They want to have answers for the mothers who test positive for COVID-19 but are still breastfeeding, and they want those answers quickly.

"We've never done anything like this before," said Mark McGuire. "Usually it is very planned. We get all our sampling supplies in hand, and then we identify the subject and talk through it."

The study launched last Friday, and so far, they have two women enrolled. If you or someone you know is breastfeeding with COVID-19 and would like to help out with the study, click on this link.