High Levels of Interferon-Alpha Expressing Macrophages in Human Breast Milk during SARS-CoV-2 Infection: A Case Report

Jack C. Yu, Hesam Khodadadi, Évila Lopes Salles, Quyen Pham, Pinkal Patel, Babak Baban

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Introduction: 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. Case Description: 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. Results: 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. Conclusion: 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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)439-442
Number of pages4
JournalBreastfeeding Medicine
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2021


  • COVID-19
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • breast milk
  • cellular immunity
  • interferon alpha

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics
  • Health Policy
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology
  • Maternity and Midwifery


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