Cytomegalovirus (CMV) is the most common virus in the United States, but few know it can cause permanent health problems in unborn babies.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Cytomegalovirus is a virus that more than half of all adults in the United States will contract by the age of 40. CMV affects one in every 200 newborns each year, and about 20 percent of babies infected will develop health problems. It’s the single most common infectious disease that causes brain injury, developmental disabilities, and hearing loss in children across the country.
Passed through bodily fluids, most who contract CMV will be asymptomatic. CMV is a common virus that often circulates in daycares. It can present like the common cold or flu, or without symptoms. But it can lead to severe complications to an unborn child when the mother is newly infected while pregnant.
Congenital CMV infection is arguably the most common preventable cause of neonatal disability in the United States. More children will have disabilities due to congenital CMV than other well-known infections and syndromes, including Down Syndrome, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, Spina Bifida, and pediatric HIV/AIDS.
Nearly 90 percent of infants born with congenital CMV appear healthy at birth, and the vast majority will not have any visible symptoms or long-term issues. Health problems or disabilities caused by congenital CMV infection can sometimes appear roughly two or more years after birth.
Some mothers in Maine are lobbying to educate all women, as well as physicians, about the risks of and how to prevent CMV. They also want universal screenings to diagnose babies who may have CMV at birth.
Kelsi Gagne’s pregnancy was normal, but her daughter Hayley was diagnosed with significant hearing loss at 15 months of age. She currently has bilateral cochlear implants. Hayley was implanted later than optimal but is progressing well. Her mother Kelsi reports, however, “that’s what makes me mad. If there was a screening, and I had a pamphlet that says CMV causes hearing loss, I would have been looking out for her hearing.”
Currently, only 20 states have targeted early CMV screening, and not all birthing facilities within these states participate. Utah is the only state with a mandate for congenital CMV screening.
Leigh V. (2021) Families fight for screenings of little-known virus that can cause permanent health problems in unborn babies. March 3. News Center Maine.
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