Antibodies present in breast milk following infection with SARS-CoV-2 could play a key role in the prevention and treatment of COVID-19

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New data presented at the Global Breastfeeding and Lactation Symposium on 21–22 September 2021 suggest that antibodies against severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) are present in human breast milk for up to 10 months after infection with COVID-19.

Dr Rebecca Powell, Assistant Professor at the Icahn School of Medicine, Mount Sinai Hospital, human milk immunologist, and lead author of the study, analysed the breast milk of 75 women who had previously been infected with and subsequently recovered from COVID-19. Of them, 88% were producing Immunoglobulin A (IgA) antibodies specific to the Spike protein of SARS-CoV-2 in their breast milk. The researchers observed a strong correlation between the Spike-binding capacity of these IgA antibodies and their ability to neutralise SARS-CoV-2.

The researchers also examined the durability of antibody production using 28 paired breast milk samples obtained 4–6 weeks and 4–10 months after infection. All of the samples exhibited significant levels of Spike-specific IgA, with antibody titres persisting or increasing over time in 43% of donors.

The findings may have implications for the prevention and treatment of COVID-19. According to the study’s authors, ‘These data are highly relevant to public health, not only in terms of the protective capacity of these antibodies for breastfed infants, but also for the potential use of such antibodies as a COVID-19 therapeutic.’

Coupled with the results of an earlier study, which showed that antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 are present in the breast milk of individuals following COVID-19 vaccination, the findings could be used to encourage uptake of vaccination among those who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

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