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How true is claim COVID-19 virus gets neutralised by human breast milk?

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Claim: A Twitter post shared on Facebook claims breast milk neutralises the virus (SARs-CoV-2) causing COVID-19.

It is true that the virus causing COVID-19 is not found in human breast milk, and the antibodies present in the breast milk make it effective against the virus.

Full Text

With the global spread of coronavirus, concerns over mother-to-child transmission especially via breastfeeding have been raised. While some studies have reported the presence of SARs-CoV-2 in human breast milk, others  report that SARs-CoV-2 was not found in the breast milk.

Recently a Facebook user Sadiq Alabi shared the screenshot of a Twitter post made by Karleen Gribble (@DrKarleenG) on Wednesday, February 10, 2021. This screenshot in the Twitter post had gathered 574 retweets, 408 quotes and 673 likes of claims that the breast milk of COVID patients neutralises SARs-CoV-2 .

According to Dr Karleen’s Twitter post, the breast milk of mothers with COVID-19 do not contain SARs-CoV-2 but its antibodies.

“Milk of mothers with COVID-19 did not contain any SARS-CoV-2 but did contain SARS-CoV-2 antibodies. When SARS-CoV-2 was added to the milk of women with COVID-19 it was neutralised by the milk.”

Excerpt of Twitter post content.

Screenshot of the Facebook post.

Verification

Dubawa traced the Twitter account in the screenshot shared on Facebook. Dubawa found Karleen Gribble’s page on Twitter @DrKarleenG and noted from her bio that she is an adjunct associate professor at the Western Sydney University with interests in infant feeding, child trauma, foster care and adoption. 

Dubawa found the original Twitter post on her page with 1,023 followers.

The post as of Thursday, February 11, 2021, had 2,320 retweets, 1,355 quote tweets and 3,137 likes.

Screenshot of Dr Karleen Gribble’s Twitter post.

Dubawa followed the link attached to the tweet which led to a study by Bio, an open-access journal published by the American Society for Microbiology.

Screenshot of mBio’s study.

The study titled “Characterization of SARS-CoV-2 RNA, Antibodies, and Neutralizing Capacity in Milk Produced by Women with COVID-19” noted its findings detected SARS-CoV-2 RNA in milk produced by women with mild-to-moderate COVID-19 and that the milk contains anti-SARS-CoV-2 antibodies and that their concentrations are correlated with the milk’s ability to effectively neutralize SARS-CoV-2 infectivity.

Dubawa also went ahead to study different documents by the World Health Organisation (WHO) on COVID-19 and breastfeeding. The WHO noted in its reports that till date, the SARs-CoV-2 has not been detected in breast milk.

Screenshot of the WHO document on COVID-19 and breastfeeding. 

A video on safe breastfeeding by the WHO in partnership with Partnership for Maternal Newborn & Child Health (PMNC) can be found here.

Also, the Center for Disease Control and Preventions (CDC) supports, noting that breastfeeding mothers with COVID-19 should wash their hands using soap and water or use hand sanitiser with at least 60% alcohol before touching their child or expressing breast milk either by hand or with a breast pump, wear a mask when they are less than 6 feet from the child (including when feeding at the breast or feeding from a bottle) and when expressing breast milk either by hand or with a breast pump and clean and sanitise breast pumps if expressing breast milk through a breast pump.

Conclusion

It is true that the virus causing COVID-19 is not found in breast milk because  the antibodies present in breast milk neutralise the virus. The WHO and CDC have noted that current evidence shows breast milk is not a likely source of infection. 

However, it is noteworthy that the study and the WHO pointed out that COVID-19 is a new disease and the available  fact is based on limited studies. This observation means the facts may change as health officials and researchers continue to learn more about how the virus spreads and what kind of risks it poses to infants whose mothers have the disease.

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