Yu, J., Khodadadi, H., Salles, É., Pham, Q., Patel, P., & Baban, B. (2021). High Levels of Interferon-Alpha Expressing Macrophages in Human Breast Milk During SARS-CoV-2 Infection: A Case Report. Breastfeeding Medicine, 16(5).
In addition to hand washing and wearing masks, social distancing and reducing exposure time to <15 minutes are the most effective measures against the spread of COVID-19. Unfortunately, three of these guidelines are very difficult, if not impossible, for nursing babies: they cannot wear masks, stay six feet away from the lactating breasts, nor consistently finish within 15 minutes while nursing. We report a case of a nursing mother with SARS-CoV-2 infection, documenting changes of immune cells and cytokines in breast milk with and without the infection.
With Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval, we obtained expressed breast milk samples from a lactating mother before and during SARS-CoV-2 infection as documented by reverse transcription-PCR. Using flow cytometry analysis, we measured the immune cell profiles and expression of cytokines such as interferon alpha (IFNα) in milk leukocytes before and during infection.
There was an eightfold increase in IFNα+ milk leukocytes, from 1% before SARS-CoV-2 infection to 8% when actively infected. The milk macrophages showed the highest increase in IFNα expression. Both T and B lymphocytes showed mild increase. Innate lymphoid cells, neutrophils, and natural killer cells showed no increase in IFNα expression and the dendritic cells actually showed a reduction.
We document the presence and high expression of IFNα in the breast milk macrophages of a lactating mother with confirmed COVID-19, compared with her milk before the infection.
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