CMV: A more common virus than you think

iStock_Cytomegalovirus-3x2
An illustration of Cytomegalovirus.

This past year the world has been in a Zika state of mind. The newly discovered link to birth abnormalities is cause for alarm and strategies for prevention are necessary.  However, there may be a small silver lining found in all of Zika’s publicity. Viral Awareness. Due to Zika’s impact, other viral illnesses that effect pregnant mothers and children are coming to the forefront, and in this awareness there is power.

One of these least talked about viruses is Cytomegalovirus (CMV).  The problem is, CMV is not as uncommon as some may think.  In fact, CMV is actually the most common congenital infection.  Every year this disease affects approximately 30,000 infants.  In contrast, currently, approximately 953 pregnant women have been diagnosed with lab evidence of Zika Virus infection.  More shocking, is that according to the National CMV foundation only about 9 percent of pregnant women know about CMV. 

Here is our chance to gain a little information.  CMV is a member of the Herpes family of viruses.  It can be transmitted via saliva, sexual contract, breast milk, blood, and the virus is able to cross the placenta to infect the baby.  

Therefore, many times the disease is spread between children in daycare or other close settings and can then infect other members of the family, including pregnant mothers. Luckily, most babies with congenital CMV as well as infected children and adults will never show any signs or symptoms of the diseases.  In fact, one out of 150 babies will be born with congenital CMV, but only one in five of babies with the disease will have any symptoms or have any long term health effects, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The children that do have signs of congenital CMV at birth may experience seizures, small head size, small birth size, and prematurely.  Of these babies who experience symptoms may also have long-term health effects such as:

  • Hearing and vision loss
  • Intellectual disability
  • Small head size
  • Muscle weakness
  • Seizures

For some children that show signs of the disease at birth there is treatment with antivirals, however the disease can often be hard to initially diagnosis and more studies are needed. A vaccine for CMV does not exist. 

So, what can we do with this information?  Again we can increase our awareness.  If you are trying to get pregnant or are pregnant, tell your doctor if you have feelings of fever, sore throat, and body aches.  These are the symptoms that adults with CMV experience and your doctor might choose to perform additional testing.  Also, many people do not know if they have CMV or not.  But if you are concerned, there are some ways you can attempt to reduce your chances.  However, I say this with caution.  Some of these preventive measures can be cumbersome and have not been fully scientifically proven. However, if you are pregnant you can try to reduce your chances of contracting the disease by:

1. Avoiding kissing toddlers and other children on the mouth

2. Avoiding sharing of eating and drinking utensils with toddlers or young children

3. Wash your hands well after changing diapers or wiping a child’s nose

4. Avoid sexual contact with your partner if he or she is sick with CMV

In the end, information about illnesses is key and with this new information you are that much more prepared for your pregnancy. 


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