A study has found that breastfeeding women, who have been infected with Covid, continue to secrete antibodies into their milk up to 10 months.
While protecting infants from the disease, these antibodies can also be used to treat people with severe Covid, as per the researchers, reported The Guardian.
The main antibody in breast milk is Secretory Immunoglobulin A (IgA), which sticks to the lining of babies’ respiratory and intestinal tracts, blocking viruses and bacteria from entering their bodies.
For the study, Dr Rebecca Powell from Mount Sinai hospital and her team analysed breast milk samples from 75 women who recovered from Covid. They found that 88 per cent contained IgA antibodies.
“It means that if you continue breastfeeding, you’re still giving those antibodies in your milk. It could be an incredible therapy, because Secretory IgA is meant to be in these mucosal areas, such as the lining of the respiratory tract, and it survives and functions very well there. You could imagine if it was used in a nebuliser-type treatment, it might be very effective during that window where the person has gotten quite sick, but they’re not yet at the point of [being admitted to intensive care],” Powell was quoted as saying.
Reacting to the study, Dr Sarika Gupta, senior consultant, Oncology and Robotic Gynaecology, Indraprastha Apollo Hospital, New Delhi, told indianexpress.com, “The recent published literature has found that the IgA antibodies found in the breast milk of previously infected nursing mothers continue to be secreted for 10 months. These antibodies provide passive immunity to infants and can also be potentially used to treat COVID 19 infection in sick patients.”
Dr Gupta, however, said that more studies will be required to check the value of using IgA derived from breast milk in treating Covid infection.
The researchers also found that vaccinated women had virus-specific antibodies in their milk. “We know that the level of antibodies produced by RNA vaccines is extremely high compared to other vaccines. You don’t necessarily need that much antibody to protect you from infection, but the milk effect really depends on there being a lot of antibody in your blood that’s transferring into your milk. Because there’s a lower level stimulated by the J&J vaccine (a viral vector vaccine), that’s probably why there’s very low levels in the milk,” Dr Powell added.