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Confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection in Scottish newborns 2020–2022

December 2022: Research published in Archives of Disease in Childhood looks at the number of newborn babies in Scotland with SARS-CoV-2 viral infection.

Video: How many newborn babies in Scotland developed a coronovirus infection?
Video summarising key findings from the paper "Confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection in Scottish neonates 2020-2022: a national, population-based cohort study". Read the full summary in plain English below.

Confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection in Scottish neonates 2020-2022: a national, population-based cohort study

Goulding, A; McQuaid, F; Lindsay, L; Agrawal, U; et. al.

Archives of Disease in Childhood: Fetal & Neonatal Edition

Published Online on: 6 January 2023

Available online at: https://doi.org/10.1136/archdischild-2022-324713

Summary in plain English

It is uncommon for newborn babies to develop a coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) infection. SARS-CoV-2 is the virus that causes COVID-19 disease.

Less than 2% of babies, born to women who are infected at the time they have their baby, go on to develop an infection themselves.

However, babies born to infected women are more likely to be born prematurely. They may need care in a neonatal unit, and can develop severe COVID-19 in some cases.

Newborn babies may also be exposed to the virus by other caregivers or healthcare professionals.

Why did we carry out this study?

We wanted to understand the total number of infections in newborn babies (aged 0 to 27 days old)  in Scotland between 1 March 2020 and 21 January 2022. This includes:

  • Infections in babies born to mothers who were, and were not, infected at the time they had their baby
  • Infections in babies who were cared for at home, as well as those admitted to hospital.

We only included confirmed infections in our study. This means that the baby had a positive viral test for SARS-CoV-2.

This type of research can help policy makers and service providers to understand the extent of neonatal infection in Scotland, and the potential risk it poses to the health of newborn babies.

Other studies have looked at the risks of newborn babies being infected by their mother, or babies taken into hospital after a positive test.

What data did we use?

To carry out this research, we used data from the ‘COVID-19 in Pregnancy in Scotland’ (COPS) dataset. This contains information on all ongoing and completed pregnancies, and babies born alive, from 1 January 2015 to the present in Scotland. This information is linked to viral testing, hospital admission and death records.

Find out more about COPS

We defined a ‘neonatal infection’ as a SARS-CoV-2 infection in the first 27 days after birth. This had to be confirmed by PCR (‘polymerase chain reaction’) or LFD (lateral flow device) test.

We studied the data for all live births in Scotland:

  • between 1 March 2020 and 31 January 2022
  • where a Community Health Index (CHI) number was available.

CHI numbers are used to anonymously identify and link records for people using NHS services.

What did we find?

Between 1 March 2020 and 31 January 2022, there were 92,009 live births with a valid CHI number in Scotland.

Of these, 141 newborn babies had a confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection, or 0.15% of live births. Of these 141 babies, 65% were admitted to hospital around the time of their infection – either neonatal or paediatric care. There were no neonatal deaths among babies with confirmed infection.

The infection rate varied over the study from 0 to 0.7% of all newborn babies per month. This varied in line with waves of infection seen in the rest of the population.

Infection rates were highest amongst babies born to younger women, and women living in deprived areas of Scotland.  Infection rates were higher among babies born to women with infection around the time they had their baby (1.8% of live births), compared to women without infection at that time (0.14% of live births).

Why is this research important?

Our study has showed that infection was uncommon in newborn babies in Scotland for the first 23 months of the pandemic.

The number of infections not confirmed by a test (and therefore not included in our study) will have varied over the pandemic, partly because of testing availability.

We suggest that continued data collection will be important to track the ongoing impact of SARS-CoV-2 infections in newborn babies.


This summary was written by Patient and Public Involvement Lead, Dr Lana Woolford with the feedback and guidance of the EAVE II Public Advisory Group (PAG) and COPS researchers. This particular summary was reviewed by PAG member Debs S.

Find out more about the EAVE II PAG