Mild heating of human milk inactivates Covid-19 virus: Study

Prashasti Awasthi Mumbai | Updated on August 13, 2020

A study carried by the team of researchers found that human milk, pasteurisation inactivates the virus that causes Covid-19, as per the report published in the Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health.

The study was conducted in collaboration with UNSW (the University of New South Wales) and a multi-disciplinary team from Australian Red Cross Lifeblood Milk.

“While there is no evidence that the virus can be transmitted through breast milk, there is always a theoretical risk,” says Greg Walker, lead author and Ph.D. candidate in Professor Bill Rawlinson’s group at UNSW Medicine.

“We’ve seen in previous pandemics that pasteurised donor human milk (PDHM) supplies may be interrupted because of safety considerations, so that’s why we wanted to show that PDHM remains safe,” he added.

“We heated the milk samples — infected with SARS-CoV-2 — to 63-degree Celsius for 30 minutes to simulate the pasteurisation process that occurs in milk banks, and found that after this process, they did not contain any infectious, live virus,” Walker said in the research.

He stated that his team’s findings demonstrated that the SARS-CoV-2 virus can be effectively inactivated by pasteurisation.

The researchers mentioned that their experiments simulated a theoretical worst-case scenario.

“The amount of virus we use in the lab is a lot higher than what would be found in breast milk from women who have Covid-19 — so we can be really confident in these findings,” Walker noted.

Cold storage/Milk banks

The researchers also experimented with the human milk which was kept at 4°C or -30°C and whether the cold milk can inactivate the virus.

“We found that cold storage did not significantly impact infectious viral load over a 48-hour period,” Walker further said.

“While freezing the milk resulted in a slight reduction in the virus present, we still recovered viable virus after 48 hours of storage,” he added.

The researchers stated that the stability of SARS-CoV-2 in refrigerated or frozen human milk could help formulate guidelines around safe storage of milk from Covid-19 infected mothers in Australia’s milk banks.

Published on August 13, 2020

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