Cytomegalovirus, also known as CMV, is hard to spell, and even harder to pronounce, but it can pose a serious threat to unborn children. Out of our concern for expectant mothers as a women’s health center, and in recognition of National Congenital Cytomegalovirus Awareness Month, we want to spread awareness of the disease, warn you of its effects and advise you on treatment options for children born with it.
How does Congenital CMV Infection Occur?
The disease is not especially rare. Approximately one in 200 babies are born with a congenital CMV infection, but only about one in five will be sick or have long-term health problems due to this type of infection. CMV is transmitted from the mother’s blood to the baby through the placenta, and according to the Centers for Disease Control, CMV can be contracted in the following ways:
- Direct contact with urine or saliva, especially from babies and young children
- Through sexual contact
- From breast milk
- Through transplanted organs and blood transfusions
We recommend that you wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after changing a child’s diaper.
What are the Symptoms?
As stated above, a majority of infected babies will not show symptoms or suffer from long-term health issues, but adverse effects are certainly possible. Signs of congenital CMV infection that are present at birth include:
- Premature birth
- Liver, lung and spleen problems
- Small overall size
- Small head size
These effects are cause for concern, but long-term issues like hearing loss, vision loss, intellectual disabilities, lack of coordination and weakness may not be apparent until later into a child’s development. For example, babies who passed their newborn hearing test may still experience hearing loss. The infection can be diagnosed through saliva, urine and blood testing.
How can Congenital CMV Infection be Treated?
Early treatment of the infection is important. Babies showing signs of congenital CMV infection at birth may be treated with antivirals, which can decrease the chance of the aforementioned long-term effects, but antivirals are not recommended currently for babies born without symptoms. Regular therapy, including occupational, speech and physical, and hearing checks can be implemented to assist in managing long-term effects if they persist.
If you have additional questions and concerns about CMV, consult with your doctor. You can also support congenital CMV awareness and treatment during June and beyond by checking out the National CMV Foundation at www.nationalcmv.org.