Expectant mothers: Reduce your risk of contracting CMV to protect your baby

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What is CMV?

CMV is short for cytomegalovirus, which is a virus that infects people of all ages but it can be especially devastating for women of child-bearing age because of the impact it can have on their unborn children. The month of June is National CMV Awareness month and the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare is now working to raise awareness of CMV so that expectant mothers, adults and healthcare workers can take basic prevention measures that guard against CMV infection.

Just how common is CMV infection?

The CMV virus is present in the saliva, urine, tears, blood and mucus of an estimated 75 percent of healthy infants, toddlers, preschoolers and children who get the virus from other kids. And over half of all adults in the U.S. over age 40 have been infected with CMV. But the challenge is most people with CMV infection have no symptoms and are not aware they have even been infected. So once CMV is in a person’s body, it stays there for life and can reactivate.

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So, if so many people have it and don’t know it, and have no symptoms, why should we worry about CMV?

While CMV in healthy people can cause mild illness with fever, a sore throat, fatigue and swollen glands, the biggest risk is to babies who can become infected while in the womb and then are born with potentially more serious congenital CMV. About one out of every 200 babies in the country each year is born with congenital CMV, and of those, about one in five will be sick from the virus or have long-term health problems.

What sort of long-term health problems do babies born with CMV have?

Most babies with congenital CMV infection never show signs or have health problems. But some have problems apparent at birth or develop during infancy that can be life-changing for the child and family. They include hearing loss, microcephaly, which is smaller-than-normal head size, low weight, brain damage, enlarged liver and spleen, seizures, diminished lung capacity, vision loss, , and development or motor delays. CMV is the most common viral cause of birth defects in babies in the U.S.

Let’s talk about reducing risk. Is there a vaccine that can prevent transmitting CMV to babies?

There is no CMV vaccine currently available, and we do not anticipate any vaccine in the near future. And there is no cure for CMV. So, the most important thing we can all do is focus on reducing transmission. This is challenging, because a pregnant woman can pass CMV to her unborn baby without realizing it. The virus in the woman’s blood can cross through the placenta and infect the baby and this can happen when a pregnant woman is infected with CMV for the first time, or is infected with CMV again during pregnancy. This is called congenital CMV.

Is there anything women can do to reduce the risk of transmitting CMV to an unborn baby?

Women who are pregnant may be able to lessen their risk of getting CMV by reducing contact with saliva and urine from other babies and young children. Some ways to do this are: kissing children on the head rather than the lips and not sharing food and utensils with them, and washing hands after changing diapers. These cannot eliminate your risk of getting CMV, but may lessen your chances of getting it and transmitting it to your unborn baby.

So where do people go if they want to learn more?

DHW has just launched a new webpage with much more information and Idaho resources for CMV, and you can find out more by visiting cmv.dhw.idaho.gov

Resources:

Idaho Department of Health and Welfare CMV information: cmv.dhw.idaho.gov

National CMV Foundation: https://www.nationalcmv.org/default.aspx

CDC on CMV: https://www.cdc.gov/cmv/index.html

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